PART 2: Idea for The Design|FORGE has been “kicking around” in LaFollette’s mind for a few years

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last article in a two-part series describing a bold vision that administrators, faculty and students have for the L&N STEM Academy. It’s something called The Design|FORGE. Sharing the vision is particularly timely with the 2018-19 school year starting this week.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

“The idea had been percolating in the back of my mind for about two years,” Clint LaFollette, Department Head for Career Technical Education (CTE) and Lead Instructor for Design, 3D Design and Animation at the L&N STEM Academy, says in describing his concept for The Design|FORGE.

After attending last fall’s second annual “Maker City Summit,” he was convinced that it was a really bold idea whose time had arrived, and LaFollette has been promoting the facility to anyone who will listen ever since. He’s backed by Becky Ashe, Principal at the L&N Academy, and a core group of students.

Both LaFollette and Ashe are visionaries, so it is only natural they are thinking big.

“The ideal location would be 15,000 square feet in the downtown Knoxville area,” LaFollette says, adding that it needs to be a facility near the L&N Academy, so it would be very convenient for the students.

“We see this as a showcase for Knoxville,” he says. “We could even use it to hold summer camps for kids.”

To achieve the vision requires more space and equipment than is currently available at the L&N Academy.

Both Ashe and LaFollette explain that the existing space within the old train station is too small to meet the explosive interest and growth that is occurring in technologies supportive of multi-dimensional design thinking and the design-build movement.

They say a much larger space could house a robust mix of 3D printers, rapid prototyping and testing equipment, and work stations for software application design and development including tools for visualization. It would be a cross-disciplinary-design resource center where students could not only work on their own projects but also gain valuable experience and knowledge by working with business leaders, entrepreneurs and others on their ideas.

“Sweeping through our nation is an industry-driven technical revolution,” LaFollette writes in his proposal for The Design|FORGE. He cites complex computer-generated animation, modeling, prototyping, digital landscaping, 3D printing and special effects as some of the new tools that students must understand and be proficient if they are going to be successful.

“This evolving confluence of design, design thinking, and advanced systems is forming a new multi-dimensional design-minded culture that is giving rise to a new industrial revolution,” LaFollette explains.

Both educators recognize that the much of the success of their shared vision depends on garnering broad community support. That’s not just money, but also donated equipment and even the time of professionals.

“As we’ve talked with more and more people, it’s gaining momentum and engaging the community,” Ashe says.

She and LaFollette have recruited a solid advisory committee that includes the two of them; Mike Carroll, university instructor/lecturer and personal trainer with Basecamp Fitness/Operation Boot Camp; Misty Mayes, Founder and President of Management Solutions LLC; Janet Jentilet, Senior Project Manager at Management Solutions; Jim Rogers

Director, Computing and Facilities in the National Center for Computational Sciences at

Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Justin Cazana, Principal at Avison Young; Ben Epperson,

Healthy Communities Project Manager with the Great Schools Partnership and

Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission; Bryan Schultz, Chair of the Science Department at L&N; and your truly.


Stay connected with us on Twitter and LinkedIn. Article ideas and other suggestions should be sent to Include the name and contact information (phone and email) for follow-up.