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University Makerspaces 1: Generating Student Buy-in

When connecting with various stakeholders across the university to increase a Makerspace’s overall attendance, students are arguably the greatest stakeholders in generating and retaining participants. At a university level, students should be your target audience and in turn, your number one user. This means that as the Makerspace director, it is your responsibility to connect with the university students by staying “on trend”, being aware of academic projects, and providing a warm, welcoming and comfortable environment in which students wish to work in. Generating student buy-in is essential to the growth and success of your Makerspace. Below are key ways in which you can work to connect with current students and establish a repertoire within the university. 

  • Hire Student Employees

Hiring students to work for you is one of the most effective ways of ensuring your makerspace stays up-to-date with popular university trends, while also generating positive, word-of-mouth marketing. The students that work for you should be passionate about the makerspace and understand its value. 

  • Intentionally hire a diverse group of students across different majors, class years, races and genders. Differing perspectives will enhance collaborations, provide enriching discussions and increase your word of mouth marketing efforts.
  • Outreach Programs 

While hosting events and programs in the makerspace is an excellent way to connect students, faculty and staff to your facility, do not underestimate the power of outreach programming. Infiltrate where the students are already present in order to encourage them to visit somewhere new. Tip: Follow this mentality as much as possible. Meet the students where they are whether that’s physically (dorm rooms, campus events, academic buildings) or socially (social media, campus app). By getting in front of their face multiple ways, they’ll begin recognizing your branding and your facility capabilities. As a result, hopefully drawing them to your Makerspace.  

  • Activities Fair: At your institution, there is most likely some type of activities fair where all student clubs and organizations gather to recruit new members. Inquire about tabling at one of these fairs. This will provide you the opportunity to be forward facing and get directly in front of students who are looking for ways in which they can connect to campus. Why not at the makerspace?! 
  • Student Leadership Meetings: Begin identifying the different types of organizations your institution has. For example, athletic teams, clubs and organizations, residential education advisors, greek life chapters, etc. If you are not sure how to identify these, consider reaching out to your Student Affairs department. From there, get in touch with each organization’s leadership team. Describe your role, what the makerspace is and the different resources/opportunities you provide. Inquire about presenting your facility at one of their upcoming meetings to increase brand awareness. Tip: This is a great opportunity to hire a student employee as your marketing/branding manager. They have the potential to connect better with their peers than you do! Inform the leadership groups about any programs they can collaborate on or the opportunities you have for allowing them to host their own event in the space. Bring giveaway items that would be of interest to that specific group. Remember, these items should be made in the makerspace to demonstrate your machines and resources 
  • Campus Events: Unlike the activities fair, there are a variety of events hosted around campus such as carnivals, concerts, comedians, etc. Consider partnering with the department hosting these events to either host a table or to create promotional materials to help promote both the event and the makerspace. The laser cutter and 3D printers can be used to make custom keychains. A vacuum former can make the molds for custom chocolates. A vinyl cutter can create custom stickers or t-shirts. The opportunities are endless. 
  • Makerspace Programming 

Open hours is a great way for students to independently work on their projects; however, programs and events expose students to new machines and resources with a low level of commitment. Events and programs attract new visitors and help increase awareness of facility resources. Determine a consistent schedule of how frequently you would like to host these events and what types of events you would like to host. Events and programs come in a variety of different options. Check out the programming opportunities below for more ideas. 

  • Large-Scale Events: Weekend events are a great time to connect with students who are looking for a break in their academic week. The weekend events hosted at the Makerspace should range in the offerings and cater towards a larger group of students. Look into what activities/projects are “on trend” and of interest to your current student population. Larger events may include pre-made supplies. For example, we may laser cut custom school logos out of wood that students can hang up in their dorm. The product is laser cut out of wood and pre-made so the activity portion would be painting/decorating the logo however you would like. 
  • Workshops: Workshops are a great way to connect with a smaller group of students who are interested in a specific skill or machine. (They’re also a great way to bring in a professional artist/instructor). The number of participants will vary based on the space and number of machines available but consider keeping these classes small in order to provide a detailed lesson to the participants. 
    • Think about the way in which you market your workshops. Based on my experience, students are exhausted after spending all day in class and very few of them have any interest in attending a “How to Use XXX MakerSpace Machine” workshop. Instead, students would rather attend a fun, social activity. Develop a workshop that not only accomplishes your goal of teaching more students about a Makerspace resource, but also allows the student to feel stress-free. 
      • For example, the first time I hosted a “How to Use the Vacuum Form” Workshop, I had zero attendees. While I thought this would be popular, it clearly had zero interest from the student body. The following week, I rebranded and hosted a “Create Your Own Chocolate Molds” Workshop. I had 25 attendees show up. In this workshop, students learned how to use the vacuum former, how to create their own molds and eventually, how to pour chocolate to create your own custom chocolates. While this may not have been my initial approach, I achieved my same goals and had a large attendance. 
  • Extended Learning Opportunities: Consider taking students on a field trip to a facility where they can learn how makerspace machines are put into real-world application. Ask the business owner to discuss their growth as a company and trials/successes.

While there are extensive ways in which your makerspace can connect with students across the university, the key takeaway is that generating student buy-in is essential for the growth of your makerspace. Experiment with some of the tactics listed above and be prepared to pivot every semester until you learn the formula that works best for your target audience. Don’t be afraid to ask students for their input! After all, their opinion of your makerspace is the most important one. 

[Feature Photo by Benjamin Thomas on Unsplash ]

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Sabrina Shankar

Sabrina has spent the last 8 years working in a variety of digital, fabrication, and makerspace labs leading to her current role supervising a fine art studio and makerspace at Bucknell University. Her passion for integrating fine art mediums with modern technology has developed unique programs and new opportunities for ways in which participants can connect with the makerspace. In her free time, Sabrina consults for makerspaces across the country to aid in the development and growth of their facility.

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