Imagine a place where kids think learning is fun, where students as young as eight are programming computers and creating designs on 3D printers.
At Dexter Learning, this world is a reality – right here in downtown Wichita Falls.
Michael Olaya, founder of Dexter said after some trial and error, he found his passion in making technical education relevant, engaging and affordable to kids and adults.
Olaya was born and raised in Wichita Falls after his South American parents moved here for his father’s work.
He said after graduating from Wichita Falls High School, he – like most kids around here – only wanted to “get the heck out” of the city.
Olaya went to the University of North Texas, majoring in Philosophy. He left UNT after two and a half years and moved to Austin to form a start-up called Capital Factory.
The space was an epicenter of entrepreneurship, he said.
People gathered in the area to share ideas, learn from each other and dream big.
Several new businesses were formed – some failed, some succeeded.
One entrepreneur that began at Capital, Olaya said, began a business alone and within a short time had 40 employees.
Things move so quickly these days that it is possible that the next largest employer in Wichita Falls, he said, has not even started their business yet.
The venture Olaya started there ultimately did not work out.
After working for a summer in San Francisco teaching 3D printing to young students, he discovered what a difference it made to the learning process to have an instructor with experience in a skill.
“Kids are always asking why am I learning this?” Olaya said.
Learning a skill, like programming or 3D printing, students get a chance to see how the knowledge is directly related to a future career.
When he moved back to Wichita Falls, Olaya earned degrees from Midwestern State University in Physics and Mechanical Engineering .
He held several workshops around town including some at MSU.
Olaya spent a month in China teaching students their technical skills.
“If we want to improve things, the way we are teaching (in most public schools) is not working,” he said.
Project-based learning is an approach, like how they teach at Dexter, that is beginning to catch on in many school districts.
Students apply their knowledge to completing a project, usually in small groups.
Schools focused on skills, like the WFISD’s new Career Education Center, he said are a glimpse of the future.
Someday, he thinks, students will graduate with a portfolio of work and a list of acquired skills, rather than a degree.
Dexter offices occupy about half of the second floor of Big Blue. They are in the process of renovating the rest of the floor for maker space, small businesses or nonprofits to rent office space.
During a Hack-a-thon at Dexter offices in Big Blue April 28-29, about 30 college students will be working night and day on group projects such as applications, robots and websites.
During the creative process, the students will have access to all of Dexter’s equipment such as 3D printers, micro-controllers, Oculus Rift headsets and Amazon Echoes
At the end of the weekend, the projects will be judged and prizes awarded.
Olaya calls the whole learning turnaround “abnormally normal.”
It is normal for people to want to learn a practical skill, to work on something and see results.
In an increasingly digital world where you can work from just about anywhere, people do not have to congregate to big cities for the jobs anymore, he said.
People can choose to move to places like Wichita Falls – just like Dexter’s newest recruit Bryant Vergara, a software engineer moving here from Michigan.
Olaya said when Vergara visited Wichita Falls, he showing him some of the best parts of the city – the Circle Trail, Lake Wichita, downtown coffee shops, breweries and restaurants.
He reports Vergara was most impressed by the community-feel of the downtown area and how friendly everyone seemed.
When he lived in Wichita Falls growing up, Olaya said he never felt like it was a cohesive community.
“In downtown, there is a bias toward interpersonal communication,” he said.
It’s that community building, he said, that reminded him of Denton and Austin.
Olaya said in the city, there are few free, public places where people are encouraged to congregate.
He aims to create more of these spaces, at Dexter’s offices and the Park Central across from Big Blue, which Dexter will soon outfit with free WiFi.
“Wichita Falls could become one of those communities. We could have a cool culture, safe area, downtown, new companies, the weather is good, taxes are low. It is a pretty compelling case,” he said.
Dexter offers a series of classes for kids and adults in technical skills
Courses are between $125 and $295.
Classes for children/teenagers include:
Introduction to computer programming
- 3D printing and design thinking
- Minecraft adventure
- Drone programming
- Adult courses include:
- Python programming
- 3D printing and product design
The maker space at Dexter will allow workers and employers to connect and be an area for co-learning and creativity.
Dexter also offers a complete system of educator training and curriculum for teachers to become expert practitioners of technical tools. The teachers then bring the skills back to the classroom using Dexter’s student-tested curriculum (which meet TEKS requirements).
For more information or to sign up for classes, visit Dexter Learning’s website at or call 940-257-5254. Their offices are located at 719 Scott Avenue.
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