A lifelong maker

Joel Leonard ’87 is an avid advocate for the construction of maker spaces across North Carolina.   

By Sarah Collins ’18

Ever since he worked on the construction of Elon’s Center for the Arts as a student in the 1980s, Joel Leonard ’87 has been interested in how humans create. Now, as an internationally recognized leader of the maker movement, Leonard is advocating for the construction of maker spaces across North Carolina. 

Leonard has long recognized the national need for more technically oriented professionals as members of the baby boomer generation begin to retire. In 2002 the Lexington, N.C., native wrote the “Maintenance Crisis Song,” which emphasizes the growing need for technical knowledge. The song went viral and was played at conferences worldwide and at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The song was even performed before U.S. Congress in 2008 during the THRIVE Competitiveness Briefing. “Writing that song changed my life,” Leonard says. “A buddy of mine said the magic words—he said I couldn’t do it—and I did it.” 

Leonard has since been asked to speak at maintenance conferences around the globe. From the Middle East Maintenance Society to the Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology, his message has reached audiences worldwide. This May, Leonard will speak at the Euro Maintenance Conference in Greece. In recent years, Leonard has made major waves in the maker world closer to home. He oversaw the construction of The Forge, a maker space in Greensboro that promotes collaboration between seasoned professionals and young innovators. The space, located in an old blacksmith shop on Lewis Street, will expand to a new location this spring. 

Leonard is impressed by Elon’s support of the maker movement. After touring the Maker Hub, located on the first floor of Harper Hall in the Colonnades neighborhood, he praised Elon’s commitment to developing well-rounded thinkers. “The skills developed there will be critical in helping [students] secure employment in this tech-dominated marketplace,” he says.

Leonard also collaborates with Newton-Conover (N.C.) Middle School, a science, technology, engineering and math school that teaches students how to write grants to fund innovative projects. He thinks Elon could develop a similar experience for students by recruiting Burlington-based companies to fund Maker Hub projects. “Elon is building a talent pool that is much needed,” Leonard says. “These development and design skills will serve students well in the future.”