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New Additions to the Toaster Team Bring a Fresh Wave of Creativity and Innovation

This past year, the Toaster has welcomed two new staff members: Steven Bleau, the Makerspace Lab Specialist, and Emerson Ironstone, the Outreach and Interdisciplinary Program Specialist! The Toaster team is thrilled to invite them onboard and share their insights and skills, furthering our passions for research and innovation.

What drew both Steven and Emerson to the Toaster was their own personal passions for making. During his time as a Product Design undergraduate student here at the University, Steven’s redesigned walker won the Overall Favorite category in the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) Challenge. He and his team graduated in 2021, and their walker has since become the foundation for their startup, Telo, which specializes in making ergonomic assisted walking devices.

“I discovered the Toaster when I was showcasing my startup’s products, and learned about how the Toaster cultivates creative education and entrepreneurship,” says Steven. “Since then I’ve participated in events and panels, and when a position opened up to manage the makerspaces I knew I had to apply!”

Emerson, a crafter themselves, discovered the intersection between making and educating. In 2020, they were pursuing their Master’s in Library and Information science, and took a class on using makerspaces in education.

“The class’s focus was primarily on middle and high school libraries, but I was curious at how I’d integrate making into a variety of contexts,” says Emerson. “When I saw that the University of Minnesota was hiring someone to work with their makerspaces, I was very excited, and my excitement only grew as I started looking into the Toaster!”

Steven Bleau, Makerspace Lab Specialist

We’re fortunate to have Steven and Emerson join our talented staff that fosters a unique community of creatives and innovators. Here at the Toaster, we pride ourselves on being an interdisciplinary resource for all students, where they’re welcomed to connect, ideate, make, and launch.

Emerson Ironstone, Outreach and Interdisciplinary Program Specialist

As the Outreach and Interdisciplinary Program Specialist, Emerson uses their unique strengths to further the Toaster’s existing programming, and bring more programming to the Makerspace and VR Studio in the Health Sciences Library (HSL). They’re especially passionate about encouraging connection and building confidence in students who are curious and creative.

“At the Toaster, I’ve been looking at approachable, low-barrier-of-entry programs that help to build community among our students even if they don’t consider themselves ‘makers,’” they say. “For example, I held Bad Art Night in February, which was an absolute blast! I’ve also been trying to bring in faculty and staff from outside the Toaster to share their making expertise; we just had a Cross Stitch 101 workshop with Carolyn Bishoff, a Science and Math Liaison Librarian who previously led the Breakerspace.” Ultimately, Emerson hopes to bridge the gap between students and expert makers across disciplines and the University community.

As the Makerspace Lab Specialist, Steven is a little more hands-on with physical equipment. Being in any University library makerspace at any time, he easily corroborates the aforementioned low barrier of entry, highlighting the Toaster’s edge in the University resources.

“The Toaster is a hub for all my hobbies,” says Steven. He explains that in running Telo, he’s always designing new products with media equipment like that of VR, and prototyping with makerspace technology like 3D printers. “Giving access to all of these tools and lowering that barrier to entry is the most exciting part to me.”

But aside from the Toaster being a positive space for students, Steven and Emerson agree that the Toaster has been an asset for their growth as well. Because we value creativity and leadership at the Toaster, and we’re enthused that our efforts for fostering both has come through to students and staff alike. Steven highlights how he’s both learned and taught in the Toaster, allowing him to explore connections and share experiences. Emerson similarly attests to how they’ve honed their skills in “teaching, leadership, project planning, communication, and so much more,” noting that being at the Toaster is unlike any other position they’ve previously held. In both cases, Steven and Emerson have, at its plainest, tried new things; they were both ultimately unafraid to explore above and beyond.

And even in the short time Steven and Emerson have been with the Toaster, they’ve already gained advice to share with others looking to make a meaningful impact in their field, as well as stay connected with organizations like the Toaster. 

Emerson’s approach is that once we identify our passions, we should stay realistic about our goals. “We all have the capacity to do good work and make meaningful change; we just need to adjust our metrics for success. We might not end world hunger, for example, but maybe we can end hunger in our campus community,” they explain. “Find something that you are passionate about, figure out who around you is doing that work, and ask how you can get involved!”

Steven similarly encourages such outreach, connection, and passion: “Be open to meeting new people and always look for new sources of inspiration—you can learn a lot from others. All it takes is for you to recognize how you can use your unique strengths and experiences to do the same for your field or cause.”

Together, Steven and Emerson embody the ethos of the Toaster, where innovation meets education, and creativity underpins our goals. In the brief time they’ve been with us, Steven and Emerson have already made a profound impact, helping the Toaster and its community grow.  As we look forward with our new staff members, we eagerly anticipate how much we can further connect, make, ideate, and launch together.

Ai-Quynh Bui — Toaster Ambassador

Author Ai-Quynh Bui — Toaster Ambassador

More posts by Ai-Quynh Bui — Toaster Ambassador

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