Universities around the country are adding makerspaces to their campuses. At a Crafts Center at Tufts University, undergraduates work on kilns and experiment with printmaking materials. And at a Scenic Shop at Santa Clara University, students construct set pieces and props for the school’s theatre. And in at University of California, Berkeley, engineering students print body parts in a 3D printer to help children with physical disabilities.
MakeSchools, a project from Carnegie Mellon University and the National Science Foundation, has profiled 46 colleges and universities that have committed to supporting a culture of making on their campuses, whether by building a makerspace or adding courses. Although the universities’ makerspaces range in size, sophistication, and goals, each sees value in providing making opportunities for their students as a way to cultivate the kinds of collaborative thinking and innovative problem-solving required in today’s world.
A goal, says Daragh Byrne, a research scientist at CMU who heads up MakeSchools, is to create versatile thinkers, ready for anything. In a press release, Byrne said the initiative and universities are working “to showcase how making is an enormous catalyst for innovation that leads to economic, societal and community impact.”
The trick will be creating a pipeline of students who are makers before they start college, rather than immersing them quickly in the maker mindset after they arrive. What universities need, in other words, is a pipeline of makers.
Pittsburgh is certainly doing its part, as we’ve reported here on numerous occasions. Across the city’s varied makerspaces, young people are not only learning the craft, but they’re learning the type of problem-solving, design, and critical thinking skills colleges are looking for.
For example, at the Y-Creator space, an afterschool program in Pittsburgh, kids learn “human centered design” by creating prototypes and then building products that solve a problem or hurdle that a person or a community faces. Last year, they made safe-cycling much more stylish with a shirt that lights up and changes color depending how fast you ride your bike.
In many ways, they’re ahead of the college students when it comes to a making mindset.
The first year of the MakeSchools network focused on documenting what “making” looks like on campuses, and not surprisingly, the most prevalent examples are coming from engineering and robotics programs. But some are beginning to blend the disciplines and transcend academic departments. Case Western’s “think box,” for example, is a 50,000 square foot hub of cross-disciplinary innovation benefiting broader Cleveland, and University of Illinois Urbana’s space is housed in the business school. In Oregon, the makerspace is focused on bridging art and architecture for community-based projects.
The ultimate goal may be to solidify “making” in the university community, even as a new form of degree.
And perhaps one day, admissions systems too will look beyond the SAT to recognize the competencies evident in a maker project.