ShopBot Tools | Building Confidence at New Reflections Technical Institute
Founded in Kansas City, New Reflections Technical Institute is a technical school designed by Mark Byrd. Mark is one of Kansas City’s community leaders and the President & CEO of New Reflections Technical Institute.
For nearly 20 years, Mark developed a plan for NRTI after seeing the disadvantages of the Kansas City Metro communities and job placement. He wanted to address those social and economic issues. He introduced vocational and technical training into an arena that was desperately looking for solutions and targeted segments of the community that were disadvantaged and at-risk.
The program began with 4 students but has grown to over 3k graduates. Mark has also created new partnerships with local employers and entrepreneurs to ensure that when courses are completed and certifications are received, jobs are waiting for NRTI students.
Make48 first met Mark in early 2020 when he volunteered to be a tool tech at Union Station-Science City in our fourth season. Mark has a construction background and has a diverse set of skills from woodworking, to painting to plumbing. During the filming, Mark met Chris Burns, a ShopBot Tools contractor.
“I had told Chris I was looking into getting a CNC for the school and adding it to the curriculum. He and I have kept in touch since filming wrapped. He kept telling me, we’re going to get you a CNC for the school. We looked into funding, but after the pandemic hit, half of our funding sources dried up. We really had to scramble. He was positive about it and told me we would figure it out.”
Then he called me one day and said, “I have a surprise, I’m driving across the country, and I’ll call you back and I’ll tell you what it is. So it takes 2 days for him to call me back and I’m just wondering what the heck he is talking about?”
After dropping his son at college in Los Angeles, Chris drove back through, and showed up in Kansas City with an early series of ShopBot's CNC machine. Chris not only set up the equipment, he stayed with Mark and the students and trained the class and got them all going on the bot. The students were floored by the ShopBot and when they saw what it could do, ideas flowed from them.
It was what Mark and the team dreamed of. Since receiving the machinery, Mark has connected with a local high school and met with the Kansas City school district to get a few more tools donated across schools. “In the inner-city, there are no woodshop classes anymore. There’s no trade training. There’s a vo-tech downtown school, but you can only go if you’re accepted and they only take so many students (with 15 high schools surrounding the area).”
“There is no machine training, nothing like this that gives them some type of training and value. So I want to talk to high schools and put ShopBots in schools and we’ll teach the program. We’ll make it an enterprising adventure to show how they can be entrepreneurs, create products, create their own signage.” Mark said. “Home Depot is onboard to help supply lumber and materials and I’m speaking to them about a program they have to help inner-city at-risk youth help training. And you can’t duplicate Make48, but one day I’d like to see the students do the same concept, in our school district, and set a challenge for students where one school comes out a 10k winner and gets a ShopBot machine.”
Getting young people into programs where they can see and interact with tools beyond their classroom is the hope for Mark. “One day I’d like students to not only graduate with a high school diploma, but also a certification. I’d love for them to start training their junior and senior year and go onto college, a trade school or go straight into a workshop and they can start making money.”
What’s next for NRTI? Mark would love to bring in a few more fabrication machines, like a 3d printer and laser cutter, to the classroom for future endeavors. “When I think about the violence that's going on in Kansas City, I think about providing hope and restoring family values to help people be able to provide for their families,” added Byrd, “Crime happens because people don't have the resources.”
If you would like to donate to NRTI or learn more about their programs visit their website http://newreflectionskc.org With more youth living on the streets, it’s up to our community to support the next generation of dreamers.