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We Fail Fast Team Leader, Mark Westlake

We Fail Fast will be making an appearance on Make48 next month! The team of former students (Rob, Sam and Daniel) joined Mark Westlake, the Innovation Center Director at Saint Thomas Academy, to compete in Madison this past August.

Mark, Rob, Sam and Daniel worked together to find a solution for the TREK Bicycle challenge. TREK asked the teams to come up with an idea and create a prototype that benefits both the community and environment, by recycling bicycle waste from parts that would end up in a landfill.

Madison’s two day challenge was filmed at the FabLab Stoughton. On February 22nd, the full episode will be released on This Old House Makers Channel. LINK. Mark spoke to us about working with his past students during the Make48 experience.

Background into STEM Teaching

My father was a mechanic by trade, and that’s probably what started me down this path. In high school, I had a teacher tell me that I should be a teacher. I said, absolutely not! Ultimately after my sophomore year in college, I did an internship and hated every minute of it. That's when I said, maybe I really should be a teacher. Three days after graduation I received a job at St. Thomas Academy and have been there ever since (34 years). As a STEM educator, I really want to inspire their talents and share that the key to success is through failure. Hence our Make48 team name We Fail Fast!

How Did You Learn About the Make48 Competition?

Jack Ryan was a former experimental vehicle team member at St. Thomas Academy and he participated in Make48 the previous year in Madison. Jack said you need to do this, it would be perfect for us.

I sent an email out to pick a team that had never worked together before. We chose Rob, a past student and he’s been an engineer for the past 6 or 7 years. My son Sam had just started his career as a mechanical engineer. Lastly was Daniel, who had just finished his freshman year of college where he’s studying engineering. These three young men didn’t really know each other, but had a lot of success in their programs when they were in school. I knew individually they were a great group, but I wasn’t sure how well they would work together. It ended up not being an issue at all. They were amazing.

30+ Years As STEM Educator

I believe that the maker movement has been a growing trend. Students are definitely interested in it, whether it's something as simple as 3D printing or building more complex projects. We tell students that if you can sketch it in a notebook, there's a pretty good chance that we can build it at the Academy's Innovation Center. If I don't have the expertise to help them, we'll bring in alumni who do have the expertise. One of my favorite experiments here was sent to NASA’s Student Opportunities in Airborne Research (SOAR) project around five years ago. The programming involved something I didn’t know how to do, so we brought in an engineer from Lockheed Martin, Jordan. He was great at helping our students with the programming and it was a successful project.


I've been involved with InventEd since its conception and with the Lemelson-MIT Foundation through their InvenTeam program. We give 15 schools $7,500 every year to invent things to promote collaboration and learning. My job is to mentor those teachers and students through the invention process. It’s similar to what happens in the 48 hours at Make48. But these groups have seven months to work through and build a prototype, where they ultimately present to MIT for EurekaFest and showcase their work. Between being on their invent team program, I've written curriculums for the Lemelson Foundation for years. It’s always fun to catch up and connect with everyone at InventED and it was great to see Tom (Gray) at an event!

Mark certainly embodies the same principles that we at Make48 believe is the key to success…collaboration!

Catch We Fail Fast and all the action in Madison on February 22nd, 2023 on This Old House Makers Channel (Roku Channel 458) starting at 7pm/est

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The Moving Center
The Moving Center
Jul 17, 2023


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