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Squishy Circuits was developed in the University of St. Thomas’ Playful Learning Lab under the direction of AnnMarie Thomas. This lab, staffed by undergraduate research assistants, looks at ways in which engineering concepts can be explored through play. In particular, former students Samuel Johnson and Matthew Schmidtbauer and Brett Gunderson were integral to the development of the Squishy Circuits project.

 

AnnMarie Thomas

AnnMarie Thomas, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering and the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas. She is the founder and director of the Playful Learning Lab, which explores ways to encourage children, of all ages, to embrace playful learning. She and her students created Squishy Circuits. She is the author of “Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation.”

AnnMarie co-founded and co-direct the University of St. Thomas Center for Engineering Education (CEE), which offers engineering courses for P-12 educators and conduct research on engineering at the pre-collegiate level. AnnMarie’s teaching covers classes on topics such as Engineering Graphics and Design, Machine Design, Dynamics (with Circus Lab), Toy Design, Product Design for an Aging Population, Technology Prototyping (for Business majors), Environmental Sustainability/Innovation and Brain Machine Interfaces (seminar).

She served as the Founding Executive Director of the Maker Education Initiative, where her team established the national Maker Corps program and laid the groundwork for this nonprofit.

AnnMarie loves collaborations. Some of her past collaboration partners and consulting clients include: Disney Imagicademy, Diavolo, the Works Museum, the Science Museum of Minnesota, NY Hall of Science, the Alinea Restaurant Group, Sweet Tooth Cake Company, Cantus, Autodesk, and Magic Arms.

AnnMarie lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband and two daughters. She is an amateur aerialist, specializing in static and flying trapeze.

Matthew Schmidtbauer

My Squishy Circuits journey began in early 2011 when I was an electrical engineering student at the University of St. Thomas and had just started working with AnnMarie on the Squishy Circuits project. From the very beginning, I thought that Squishy Circuits was a fantastic idea – and I was very excited to be working on it. After attending several events, I realized that many people were looking for a single source for all of the components required for Squishy Circuits.

Although developing a business plan, sourcing parts, and building a website were not necessarily things I thought I would be working on during my free time that spring, I started learning more about the process and finalized the Squishy Circuits Store idea. By June I had gained permission from AnnMarie, Sam (Squishy Circuits’ previous student researcher and recipe developer), and St. Thomas to continue forward. On June 15th, I filed the paperwork for Squishy Circuits Store LLC.

Armed with a small loan from my parents, I ordered raw materials. Upon their arrival, it became quite clear that “some assembly was required” and my parents and I began producing Squishy Circuits Kits out of their basement and garage. By September I had the first versions of the Squishy Circuits Kits available online and had started selling them. Learning to juggle school, work, kit production, and everything that filled the spaces in-between proved to be challenge, but, looking back, I can only think of it as a positive, learning experience.

Fast-forwarding to present day, I am proud to have sold tens of thousands of Squishy Circuits kits in over 25 countries around the world. I continue to be a proponent of the Squishy Circuits program and am a firm believer that learning can be accomplished through playing and self-discovery.