He just turned 22, but Ben Marken’s resume overflows with outside-the-box thinking and a burgeoning skillset that would satisfy decades of accomplishments for most people.
Straight out of Nelson’s L.V. Rogers Secondary, Marken chose his backyard post-secondary institution as a destination to build an education based on discovery and innovation. Before he graduated from the two-year Digital Arts & New Media Program on Nelson’s Tenth Street Campus, Marken helped Trail’s Austin Engineering with an award-winning 3D model of the Corra Linn Dam. His prototyping and design skills have been utilized by both giant companies like Teck and FortisBC, and small entrepreneurs looking to get innovative products to market. He has taught first-year Selkirk College engineering classes, been a faculty assistant and designed dozens of cool projects on his own.
Selkirk College student Ben Marken with parts from the electric kayak he designed and other projects developed through his training in the Millwright/Machinist Program on Nelson’s Silver King Campus.
At the end of August, Marken will complete the 30-week Millwright/Machinist Foundation Program where he has developed hands-on skills to help foster even more opportunity to explore.
“I’m doing what makes me happy and what interests me, solving problems gives you drive and energy,” Marken says when asked about career goals. “I don’t have a set destination, so I just try to gather and learn as many different skills as I can.”
Selkirk College Provides Vital Foundation
Marken has a passion for learning how stuff works and creating solutions when it doesn’t. It began at a young age and by the time he was in high school, Marken was taken by digital design and 3D printing as tools to dive even deeper. While on a high school tour of Nelson’s Tenth Street Campus in 2014, he met Selkirk College instructor Jason Taylor. Similarly passionate about pushing boundaries, Taylor showed Marken a small fab-lab tucked away in a corner classroom that was stocked with 3D printers and leading-edge computer technology.
“To me it was like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory… it was pretty wild,” Marken says of the equipment that was available at that time.
Though he had plenty of options for educational pursuits, Marken did not feel the need to go any further than down the street to start his post-secondary education. He enroled in the Digital Arts & New Media Program (now known as the Digital Arts Program) to focus on computer drafting and design skills.
The Corra Linn Dam project that Ben Marken worked on has won awards and provided FortisBC a resource that helps with project planning, stakeholder engagement and environmental planning.
Marken’s superb skills were quickly recognized and before the end of his first year, he had secured a co-op position with Austin Engineering. His first major project came when he was given more than 3,000 drafting blueprints from 1932 and asked to put together a 3D model of the Corra Linn Dam on the Kootenay River to help with a $63 million spillway project being undertaken by FortisBC. The goal was to use the model to demonstrate complex systems in an easy to understand format.
“I saw what they wanted and what they were going for, I just built up the vision in my head and made it happen,” Marken says. “It pushed my skillset up that much more, the sheer complexity of it was pretty crazy.”
The final four-foot by four-foot model exceeded all expectations. Considered a game-changer, the model was used for project planning, stakeholder engagement and environmental planning. Austin Engineering and Selkirk College won the Clean Energy BC Operational Excellence Award in 2017 for the 3D model project.
While a second-year student in the Digital Arts & New Media Program, Marken continued to work for Austin Engineering on numerous drafting and design projects that has helped the Trail-based company stay on the leading edge. After graduation, Marken moved over to what is now the Selkirk Technology Access Centre (formerly the MIDAS Lab) in Trail where he had the chance to work on numerous projects under the leadership of Jason Taylor.
The team used 3D printing and computer design to create a wide range of projects for regional entrepreneurs. From a spring-loaded prosthetic arm for cross-country skiing to automotive parts to sensor boxes for bats, Marken helped with prototyping and design work that put the regional access centre on the map nationally.
A Detour to the Trades Shops
The world of 3D printing is advancing at a rapid pace. When Marken first discovered it back in high school, the materials used were relatively simple and the projects not overly complex. In late-2019, the Selkirk Technology Access Centre added a small metal printer which is one of only a few that exist in Western Canada. Though he has the computer skills and proven talent to tackle any project, Marken knew he would need to secure new skills to fully explore the extent of the technology.
“Advanced materials printing is where you are going to produce the cutting edge stuff,” Marken says. “It’s hard to design something for someone else to produce if you don’t know how to make it yourself. You need to have the foundation that is provided by the Millwright/Machinist Program.”
Marken headed to Nelson’s Silver King Campus in February to start the certificate program that provides training for tradespeople interested in careers that range from heavy industry to high technology sectors. Though the COVID-19 pandemic threw uncertainty into the program, instructors front-loaded the curriculum with textbook learning and since May students have been able to get into the shop for practical training.
“I’m happy to get my hands dirty, it’s super interesting,” says Marken. “I can’t think of a single negative about the program, it has really been fantastic.”
Not surprisingly, Marken’s project work quickly garnered the attention of his instructors.
“Ben has really reminded me what learning should be about,” says Millwright/Machinist Program Instructor Matt Sumner. “He follows his passion and isn’t limited by traditional career paths. He gets his work done in class, but also takes it so much further. There is so much diversity and technology, both new and old, in the design and manufacturing vocations. It really is endless how far it can be taken.”
One of Ben Marken's many projects is an electric kayak that he designed and uses on a regular basis on Kootenay Lake.
Focusing on design that utilizes the plasma cutter to carve out aluminum, Marken has put together some stellar projects that include a custom electric bike, a stunning computer desk, functional tool boxes, bed frames and a ladder rack for his truck. One of his more head-turning projects is an electric kayak he designed and built in the shop.
“It’s a cool final result and fun to motor around on the lake, but the intent was to force myself to design something that could work and be functional,” says Marken, an avid outdoor enthusiast in his spare time. “You get double-takes because people see a kayaker going much faster than their brain would expect.”
With world-changers like Elon Musk providing a model for how to disrupt and push humanity forward, Marken says he will continue to expand on his education both formally and on his own. As he gets set to earn another credential, Marken credits Selkirk College for helping him find his way to a destination and future brimming with success.
“Getting to know instructors one-on-one, you get more access to the curriculum and the skills you want to develop,” he says of Selkirk College. “If you stay after class to chat, instructors are eager to provide feedback and advance your knowledge.”
Find out more about Marken’s projects at his website.