5 Questions That Matter with Jan Baum

Jan is Director for 3D Maryland. 3D Maryland is a two-year state-wide leadership initiative to advance the engagement of 3D printing and additive manufacturing among manufacturers, business, and entrepreneurs across industries in the state of Maryland. Initiatives include 3D Maryland User Group, mapping the rapid tech ecosystem in Maryland, connecting resources and building collaborative relationships, a thought leaders series, and a prototyping lab.

Jan was named 2013 Innovator of the Year by the Daily Record

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How did you get into 3D printing technology?

I’m always interested in the new. We go through life and find our way, something interests us, we engage it, and we follow a path. After awhile, I’d hear words like innovator and early adopter and I was, like—Oh, that’s me! When the digital revolution happened I started to see what was possible with 3D design software and could see early on how it would revolutionize how we made things.

When I was on sabbatical in 2006-7, I would read constantly. When something would come across my plate three times from a reputable source I checked it out. 3D design is revolutionary. It’s changing how we make things. And changes who makes things, as well. We talk about how it will revolutionize manufacturing. We’re not there yet, but we do have some great case studies.

When you think about the desk top printers and free design software, the inexpensiveness of the printers, of the materials, and the accessibility of the software, anyone can create their own job.

What were you doing before the 3D Maryland initiative?

I’m trained as a metalsmith. I’m trained as a maker. I’m a professor at Towson University.

(She is Director at Object Lab, a comprehensive, state-of-the-art rapid technologies and digital fabrication lab, encompassing the rapid tech ecosystem from 3D scanning/imaging, 3D printing, CNC milling, and laser cutting.)

I’ve been in higher education for 20 years. I started as a maker and educator simultaneously.

As an educator I’ve constantly innovated in the classroom. I rarely taught a class the same way twice. I always want it to be relevant, and the same thing with technology. When I saw this technology I knew where the world was going.

I’m infinitely interested in the world and how it works. I’m very competitive, but in a good way, so that the collective moves forward. As a professional educator I can’t, in good conscience, train for outdated methodologies. The jobs that young people are going to have don’t exist right now.

How do we train students for what we don’t know? All we can do is ride the trends and teach them critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, entrepreneurial ecosystems, and pull in the key technologies.

Who are you leading and where are you taking them?

I’m leading business, industry and entrepreneurs, and within entrepreneurs, innovators and early adopters.

Maryland has a pretty good engagement with these technologies. We have a lot of early adopters. But, to a lot of C-level decision makers it still seems like science fiction. They’re still thinking in the industrial era. I have to lead a lot of different people into adopting the technology. I’m taking them into the future.

This is a nascent field. We aren’t there yet. I believe we have enough signposts along the way. We have the prototyping, small batch manufacturing, mass customization, we know what it can do right now. It’s evolving quickly. The trick is to get people to understand the technology and the business advantages. So when it takes off like a rocket ship people aren’t going, “What’s 3D printing?” “What’s design software?” “What are rapid technologies?” We want to answer those questions now and make it accessible so people can plug into it.

I want Maryland to have a multiplicity of voices around these technologies. Because it’s the individual maker, the hardware designer, the engineer from Lockheed Martin, the brain surgeon from Hopkins, it’s all these people, together, that will help Maryland differentiate itself in this space.

What nucleus of skills, talents, and characteristics make you an effective leader?

I’m passionate about what I do. If I’m convinced by something, an endeavor, a mission, I’m evangelical. I’m told I can be very persuasive.

I’m a holistic thinker. I think about the whole. I’m a connector and team builder.

I always want big wins, early wins and big wins. An example at 3D Maryland is at one of our first expert user groups we had the skull surgeon from Hopkins come. And the applied physics lab person was also there. They are big players in this field. I learned, yesterday, that the applied physics lab is developing robotics for the skull surgeon at Hopkins, to make skull surgery much more refined and go faster. To me, that’s a tremendous win. They say it would not have happened had I not created the expert user group.

I’m infinitely interested in helping people plug into subject matters. Being a connector so big things happen in the world. If we can do that and that comes out of Maryland, that’s a huge win.

What is your purpose in life in as few words as possible?

Make the world a better place through education, engage forward-thinking ideas, getting people on the bus, working together, and being supportive and encouraging.

I think of the world as a pretty harsh and competitive place. I’m uber competitive for We – not me over you. As an educator, my purpose is getting people to believe they can make a difference, and giving them the tools and experiences to prove that to themselves.

I think, similarly, with 3D Maryland and these technologies, it’s getting people to understand that the technologies can help them be more competitive globally.

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My goal with the leadership column is to create a bridge between the up and coming cultural creatives and entrepreneurs driving the Baltimore Renaissance and established leaders who have made an impact in the world. We have much to learn from each other.