Education
Georgia Tech’s Makerspace is a Model for Higher Education
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Inside Georgia Tech’s Invention Studio.

“We’re moving the maker movement back into engineering and engineering schools,” says one of the members of the Makers Club at Georgia Tech’s Invention Studio at the end of the video below.

The Invention Studio is a campus-wide makerspace open 24 hours to any faculty, student, or staff member and project, not just those in classes. The Invention Studio has $500,000 of equipment in 3,000-square feet. There are over 500 users per month now. Seventy students are members of the makers club, which provides support and training for the community of users.

“We keep the space open and the machines running,” said one student.

I visited the makerspace last year and was impressed not by the tools, but by the level of student engagement. (I met and later hired a former president of the Makers Club, Eric Weinhoffer, after he graduated. He now works on product development in Maker Shed.)

Here’s a two-minute overview of the Georgia Tech Invention Studio:

Dr. Craig Forest, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering, has been the faculty sponsor for the Invention Studio. The makerspace is equipped with 3D printers, laser cutters, a waterjet cutter, an injection molder, a thermoformer, various milling devices, a meeting space, a lounge, and more. Dr. Forest writes that “these facilities, infrastructure, and cultural transformation are demonstrating the value and sustainability of hands-on design/build to stimulate innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship in engineering undergraduates.” Over 30 companies have donated to build and support the Invention Studio.

He originally saw the makerspace as a high-end prototyping facility for students working on Capstone Design Expo projects. But it’s becoming much more than that. Students don’t just show up to work on class projects. They also work on their own personal projects. They also enjoy hanging out in the space. What’s really unique about the Georgia Tech model is that the students aren’t just users of the space. They manage and maintain it. It has become their space, not just a space owned and operated by the school. It’s a huge difference that translates into students spending more time in the space and getting to know new people at the school. It’s a model that other universities should study and replicate.

The Makers Club is currently sponsoring a grant program, offering $250 for student projects. What’s especially good about the program is that it is open to any student project in any major. “We love multidisciplinary projects,” says the Maker Grant promotion.

I love that kind of thinking. The Invention Studio as a makerspace and maker club just might democratize the practice of engineering.

18 thoughts on “Georgia Tech’s Makerspace is a Model for Higher Education

  1. Ga Tech has dozens of well appointed laboratories scattered all over campus and requires significant projects to be designed and built as part of almost every major. And it’s great that they’ve figured out that interdisciplinary work is something to encourage and that bigger/more interesting things may happen when labs aren’t restricted to students in one particular class or major.

    But how is a maker space that is restricted to Ga Tech students (in-state tuition $8K a year, out of state 30K) going to “democratize” the practice of engineering?

    Freeside (http://wiki.freesideatlanta.org), is a maker space located less than 2 miles away that is open to the public with weekly free workshops. I’m sure they were would just LOVE to get their hands on a fraction of the tool and hardware goodies that Tech has.

    1. I’ve visited Freeside as well in Atlanta. I visited other spaces as well in various stages of development. All are important to have in a community.

      What I meant by democratizing the practice of engineering in this context is that you don’t have to be an engineering major at the university to do engineering. True, you do have to be a student or faculty member. I’d like to see makerspaces in libraries and public schools.

      1. I’m with you. But it would be twice as good if Tech had some sort of exchange program with the folks at Freeside to collaborate, or to work with local high school robotics programs, etc. Tech is a great school, but seems pretty insular, though I know quite a few faculty members and programs that are working to change that.

        1. Georgia Tech is starting to collaborate with Freeside and other makers spaces. I’m a member of 7Hills Makerspace in Rome, GA and we signed a letter of support for an NSF grant to collaborate on “informal engineering education.” Still waiting for word on funding.

        2. There is a current NSF grant awarded to GT to bring advanced manufacturing equipment and curriculum as well as makers clubs to the Griffin-Spalding middle and high schools (about an hour south of Atlanta). As part of the grant, there will be a week-long summer camp for local high school students in the Invention Studio. The makers club has been very supportive in participating in outreach activities!

  2. When I was a Polymer Chemistry student at Tech in the late 90’s, I remember getting a tour of one of the first 3D printers in a friend’s Mech Eng lab. It involved lasers, a huge vat of unpolymerized monomer, and a long wait. Maker projects were rampant in the dorms at the time, mostly dealing with creative, flexible use of the limited dorm spaces. And of course rapid cooling of fermented beverages. It’s cool to see the creative drive being encouraged.

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

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