Lis Bokt – Executive Director – The Geek Group Science Center

Lis (Liz) Bokt, is the Executive Director of a 43,000 square foot makerspace, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “The Geek Group Science Center is where individuals can work on projects, regardless of scope. We have everyone from engineers doing product prototyping on our Haas CNC machine or our 6 Afinia 3D printers; to folks playing with our KUKA Robotics prototype KR-350/1; to kids doing their homework. We have 25,542 members that span the globe. For this reason, video is important to our outreach. We also hold tours every week and that helps us increase our membership.”

Transformational Tour

“One of my favorite moments came during one of those tours. A high school girl was gearing-up for college and was told that she should go into administration. She loved watching TV shows where people were making stuff like motorcycles and custom cars. She saw our equipment, and was really interested. We told her, “You can make anything here. At first, she didn’t believe it, and when we walked her through the steps, she realized there was nothing keeping her from making things. She changed majors and went to vocational school.”


“I think that story illustrates our motto: Confidence, Freedom to Explore and Permission to Fail. In fact, we have a case in our lobby containing our spectacular failures, such as broken parts, fixtures and other things.”

Born of Surplus Computer Parts

The idea for the Geek Group came about in 1994 at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. There, a group of friends began experimenting with surplus computer parts and surplus electronics. They attracted more like-minded people and grew over a few years into a small company, which they named The Geek Group. They started hanging out on a regular basis and realized that they could accomplish much more, together.

From Garage to Acre-Sized Makerspace

“Our first makerspace was a collection of equipment in someone’s garage, and it was not enough space. So rented a small warehouse and realized that 5 – 10,000 square feet was still not enough space. When we got to 15,000 square feet we added a robot that needed 1,000 square feet. We had difficulty making that space work and decided to take the plunge and become a large-scale operation.”

“When we obtained our current 43,000 square foot space in 2010, we knew we were taking a risk and, because of that, weren’t getting a lot of sleep. Immediately, though, we got a lot of attention from the community and the space began to fill. As we add workstations, people come and fill them up. Each day we have as many as 60 people. On rainy days, we’re packed.”

“We discovered early-on that we attracted science teachers who wanted to share our space with their students. They found that they could make science much more interesting by giving their students a hands-on learning experience not available in school. “

Putting the “A” in STEAM

Lis’ background is quite varied and explains why The Geek Group isn’t your average makerspace. Lis is an artist who works in multiple disciplines (floral design, woodworking, plastic, glass blowing, painting, drawing, clay sculpture, metal work and calligraphy). She is also a programmer (PHP, SQL, JavaScript, Actionscript) and speaks English, German, French, Swedish, Sámi (the language of nomadic Lapps in northern Scandinavia). She has all of the makings of a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) proponent.

GeekArtist or ArtistGeek?

“As Executive Director, my background allows me to approach things from both worlds: Geek and Artist. Most traditional geeks don’t approach things from the artistic side. Having said that, I have also discovered that our more artistic members quickly pick up on how they can use our equipment as new tools to create their art.”

“Accessibility to non-geeks in our community is a priority of mine. I’ve noticed that there are parallels between spoken and programming languages. This allowed me to pick up on G-code pretty quickly and it helps me to teach it to people.”

“I consider myself to be pretty good at explaining things to others. That’s because, early in my life, teachers let me approach learning in my own way, I would discover things on my own. As a young child I wanted to learn about everything and they let me explore. My Mom was also a big influence. She was a music teacher and let me learn in my own way. I guess that’s why I’m a big proponent and practitioner of Experiential Learning.”

Don’t Worry, It’s Only an Industrial-Strength CNC Machine

“For example, here’s how I teach people to use our industrial-strength CNC machine: I put them in front of it, tell them which way is up, show them a bit about the software and say, “This may look intimidating, you’re smart, and can figure it out.” They go to work, ask for a bit of help and leave with something they’ve made. They tell their friends, “Look what I made. You can do it, too.”

Not Your Mother’s Open House

“To celebrate what we’ve accomplished and to thank the community that has supported us for 20 years, we’re having an Open House this coming Wednesday, April 23 from 1pm to 8pm. We’re at 902 NW Leonard Street NW in Grand Rapids, MI. We’ll have all six of our Afinia 3D printers set up in the lobby and have demonstrations and print sample objects. We’ll be showing our visitors AutoDesk software and will help them customize a part, if they wish.”

What does the future hold for The Geek Group? “Would like to expand in the future and are considering a Campus Model versus a single building, like we have now. One thing is certain, the people in our area have the interest to support us.”