Meet the Maker: Kathy Ceceri

Kathy Ceceri

An accomplished author and educator, Kathy Ceceri is known for her captivating designs in robotics and paper engineering. A prolific content creator, specializing in a wide variety of hands-on projects, Kathy is also a familiar face on the Maker-Faire circuit.

Imaginative and kid-friendly, Kathy’s inventions are packed with practical applications of science, technology, engineering, art, and math.

Since joining the Chibitronics Design Team in 2023, Kathy has shared several original, highly-engaging STEAM projects that include a glowing origami firefly and a sliding solar eclipse simulator, to name just two! You can view more of her work here.

How would you describe what you do? What do you most enjoy about it?

Most of my work involves developing simple hands-on learning activities for kids and teens using arts and crafts supplies and other “everyday stuff.” I have worked with organizations including the Girl Scouts (I developed their Robotics badges!) and KidWind and companies including Adafruit and now Chibitronics. I also teach workshops for kids and teens, present training sessions for teachers and parents, and I’m the author of more than a dozen books of hands-on learning projects such as BOTS, Making Simple Robots, and Paper Inventions.

I’ve created learning activities for every topic, from the Silk Road to video game development. But for the past few years I’ve focused on science and technology projects. Using crafts supplies to make them cute and colorful is a bonus! Not only do they draw attention, they also show some who might feel intimidated by concepts like electronic circuits and coding that they can start by building upon the craft skills they already have (like cutting, folding, and gluing) and the materials they’re used to working with (like paper, cardboard, and tape).

What do you want people to know about your creative process?  

I’m more artist than scientist, but I believe the creative process for art and science have a lot of overlap. For me, developing a new craft project is a lot like the “engineering design process.” You start with a goal (for example, making a fun light-up paper model of a creature, where its parts also serve as the battery holder and on-off switch). Then you sketch out and build a “prototype” — a quick-and-dirty test version to see how well your idea really works. If you run into problems you need to fix (such as finding that the folding paw switch on your cat design reach the LED circuit on its belly), or areas to improve (like reducing the number of bends in the conductive tape), you keep trying different solutions until you come up with a design that fits the bill.

Kathy Ceceri’s Robo-Kitty Fridge Magnet

What inspires you? 

If anything, I’m inspired by materials. When I look at ordinary crafts and household materials, or things from the recycling bin, I immediately start imagining what they might be good for. For example, I collected old solar garden lights for years before I came up with a way to use them to power a simple robot or light up a model house

Kathy Ceceri’s Solar-Powered Model House

Paper and cardboard are my favorite materials to work with — they’re accessible to everybody, cheap, and easy to work with. You can quickly draw and print out a template to test out your design, then tweak it and repeat as needed.

I also love the challenge of seeing whether I can recreate someone’s cool but complicated design in paper, using simple mechanisms you can fold up and tape.

Kathy Ceceri’s Color-Changing Infinity Mirror Project

What are your interests? What are you passionate about?

I love to get outdoors, and I try to make sure I remember to get up from my work table for a little while every day and move around. My husband is a long-distance cyclist, so I get out on my bike as much as possible to stay in shape for our adventures together. I also adore meeting up with a friend or a group for kayak trips on lakes and rivers in our part of upstate New York. In my down time, I am a movie and TV fanatic. It gives me something to talk about in our weekly video chats with our grown kids (one who works in film editing and visual effects, and the other who’s a creative director for a video game company).

What challenges and joys have you encountered during your creative/professional journey?

Right now, as the social media environment evolves and changes, the biggest challenge is staying in touch with other creators of educational material and those who make use of our ideas, like classroom teachers and parents. That said, my biggest joy is meeting people online or in-person at places like science festivals, educator conferences, and Maker Faires and hearing about what they’re doing. It always helps recharge my creative batteries.

Kathy Ceceri and her Solar Powered Model House at the Saratoga Sustainability Fair in 2023

How are you using Chibitronics in your creations?

I was first introduced to the whole idea of light-up paper designs something like 15 years ago when I saw and heard about the work of Leah Buechley at the MIT Media Lab and her students, including Chibitronics founder Jie Qi. Nowadays it’s the Chibitronics Design Team that inspires me. I look at the ways they incorporate LED circuits and new products like Animating LED Stickers into their amazing greeting cards, and try to find ways to adapt those ideas for kids and classrooms. Right now I’m working on two areas — making designs simpler to help younger children get started, and 3-D paper engineering designs that feed into my love of miniatures. I’m looking forward to seeing where else light-up paper designs lead me!

Where can people learn more about you and your work?

You can keep up with my latest projects, books, and workshops on my website. You can also get a glimpse of my works-in-progress on social media, including @kathyceceri on Twitter and @kathy_ceceri on Instagram.

Meet the Maker: Kathy Ceceri
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