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Recently, I’ve had several opportunities to meet up with some of the people active in MakeIt Labs in Nashua, NH. This relatively new hackerspace was created just over a year ago, and has undergone some happy developments. Over the summer, I carved out some time to visit their new digs while at a workshop for teachers at UMass Lowell.

It’s been exciting  to meet members of MakeIt Labs at the Cambridge and Rhode Island Mini Maker Faires, and to see their projects shared with people at World Maker Faire where I chose them for an Editors’ Choice award. Below is an interview with Joe Schlesinger, founder of the space.

Chris Connors: Why did you start MakeIt Labs?

Joe Schlesinger: I had just left college, and didn’t have a place to work on stuff anymore. I’m really into all forms of making, especially robotics, and it was becoming clear fast that an apartment wasn’t going to cut it. Apparently people frown upon you trying to weld in your bathroom. I’d heard about hackerspaces, and was convinced that was the way to go. So, I found a small contractor’s garage, signed a lease and posted it to hackerspaces.org. MakeIt Labs was born.

CC: What ways would you like to see it grow?

JS: We’re getting to a point now where most of the build-out is done at our new location, and its a fairly full-fledged, self-sustaining shop for members to work on their own projects. Now that we’re stabilized, I’d like to see it do more in turns of education and outreach. We’re working with a number of nearby schools and FIRST teams at the moment, and that’s pretty fulfilling. There’s nothing like seeing the look on someone’s face when they ‘get’ that they, too, can make almost anything. Hopefully we’ll have more events and some formal classes coming out soon.

After the break, you can read more from Joe and see Joe and Christian St. Cyr’s video tour of the facilities.

CC: How is it different working in a group of makers vs. operating solo?

JS: The support you get from others equally as dorky as you, the regular kick in the pants to actually get stuff done and the people who know how to make every aspect of it possible really set group-making a world apart. Its great to have a crowd to turn to that, when someone announces their intent to build a fire-breathing penguin, the first statements are “awesome!”, “how?” and “can I help?”. The community is easily MakeIt’s biggest asset.

CC: What are some ways that your projects have been influenced by the space and its’ people?

JS: I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been stuck on a problem for hours, and had someone come up with a solution near instantly. Either because they’ve had the same problem, seen it solved somewhere else, or just looked at it a totally different way. I always find myself amazed by the people in the lab, and how much they offer in terms of knowledge and viewpoints.

CC: How do you see people learning in spaces like yours that is different than what you saw in school?

JS: There’s a lot more focus learning to make, rather than making to learn. People learn what they need to make things happen. People are far more passionate about learning here because they’re learning for something they care about, like finishing their projects, rather than for a test. People are focused less on the minute details than the general ideas and principles and how they can apply them. There’s a lot less focus on learning every detail and equation, because those can just be looked up.

CC: What have you learned about your projects from demonstrating them at Maker Faire?

JS: The age of passive consumption is over. In order for people to care, experiences now need to be engaging. You can have all the signs and pictures of the coolest project in the world, but people are going to ignore it all to play with the knobs on your 8-bit noise-maker, or to chase the wheelchair-robot around. And if you have a six-legged robot sitting on your desk, it better be able to walk, or you’ll disappoint every kid that sees it!

CC: What is the best thing you have seen come out of creating MakeIt Labs?

JS: A group of friends that are just a big as nerds as I am. Making things is way more fun with people that ‘get it’, and are doing things just as dorky as you are. Even if it weren’t for the tools or the space, I’d put in all the sweat, blood and tears its taken just for the people.

CC: Any other thoughts you’d like to share on making and makerspaces?

JS: Making awesome things makes the world more awesome.If you’re near a makerspace, visit it, join it, hang out. If you’ve got that idea, start it. That project, finish it. The most important thing is to just get out there and MakeIt. (pun very intended!)

You can visit MakeIt Labs online, or if you’re in Southern New Hampshire, they have open houses on Monday and Thursday evenings.

Chris Connors

Making things is the best way to learn about our world.


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