Woman shows visitors a display of pens created by veterans and other members of NIS.
Victoria Young displays pens created by Nebraska Innovation Studio members and veterans used to fundraise the program Veterans In Recovery. Photo Courtesy of Craig Chandler.

Nebraska Innovation Studio hosted a grand reopening Sept. 16 of its renovated studio where members learn to weld, craft and gather in one creative space.

Nebraska Innovation Studio, located in Lincoln, hosted 200 people in the renovated space on Sept. 16. Three employees manage the studio available to everyone in the state. Funding to renovate the studio took four years, including the 153 day pause when the studio closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Nebraska Innovation Studio opened in October 2015 as a member-based makerspace for creating projects and designs for school or for fun. Programs and workshops include wood shop, metal shop, prototyping, software development, art studio, ceramics and textiles. Members, including veterans and students, assembled 33,000 face shields and 3,000 PPE gowns distributed to UNMC and hospitals across the country during COVID-19.

Jerry Reif, assistant director from England, manages Nebraska Innovation Studio and purchases all equipment, furniture and needs for the space.

“This is my forever job,” Reif said. “Everything has led up to this place.”

Reif said he is passionate about the reopening and project after setting everything up and providing for the community on a self-funded budget. Reif worked in metals, aviation and more, leading to a job at the studio. Everyone has access to becoming a member of NIS where staff teaches people how to weld, knit and more.

“We have about a 60 to 40 ratio of students to community members,” Reif said. “People can create success here.”

Reif said there are not enough employees working at the studio, and he hopes to hire more employees. Student interns from different universities help around the studio. Five professors use the on-site classroom where they teach classes to university students aside from the shops in the studio. 

Veterans in Recovery, a program of veterans recovering from PTSD and other related illnesses, brings veterans to Nebraska Innovation Studio to use all of the materials and programs available for free.

Victoria and James Young, founders of Veterans in Recovery from San Diego, California, crafted pens out of different materials to fundraise for the program. Veterans made pens in the studio, and dozens are on display.

“We have veterans come in every day,” Victoria Young said. “All these materials and membership is paid for the veterans when they come in.”

Veteran James Young said he hopes to open up the program to more veteran groups who can use the studio.

“We bring anyone in for checking, financing and mobility assistance,” James Young said. “The veterans hospital counseling program uses the studio classroom for substance abuse counseling as well.”

Young said veterans’ lives are saved by coming and using the studio.

“It puts their mind to something, and they can be together and make a lot of cool things,” Young said.

Nebraska Innovation Studio staff used the grand reopening to bring the community together to see the renovation and additions to the studio. They were averaging 52 members a day coming in to use the space before COVID-19. Veterans, students and the community have access to the expanding studio, with hopes of continuing growth.