What a makerspace at Moreno Valley College can do for community college students and faculty
Donnell Layne and Jason Kennedy developed the iMake Innovation Center Makerspace at Moreno Valley College in Southern California, an Hispanic-serving community college in Riverside. They talk about developing the space to meet the needs of students and faculty as well as the broader community. They also see it as a space that is growing into the future, just like the students.
Donnell and Jason are both leaders and learners in the space. I was happy to visit MVC last spring and give a talk there for students and tour the makerspace. I connected again with Donnell and Jason to capture a fuller story of how they developed their makerspace and how they view its role on campus and in the community.
Donnell: When we started, it was like what is a makerspace for us? What is it? What’s a makerspace for Moreno Valley College? What’s a makerspace for the IE, the Inland Empire for our constituents, for our community, for our students? That’s how we like started with that question what does it really mean for us? That meant we had to do a lot of research.
We started reading up on different makerspaces, visiting this different makerspaces in the region even one in Costa Mesa that I wanna give a shout out to, called the Urban Workshop. That is a phenomenal facility. That gave us a lot of that ideas around oh, you can put a different section here, a different section here, a different section here, and it can play well together.
As opposed to just being like one mass of a space or conceiving of it in that way. It changes the way your mind thinks about the learner in this space. You realize you can create different pockets for different learners more easily than you thought of it as one large space.
Another differentiator that we saw was four year universities have endowments and the money, that money comes a lot of expectations. They have a lot of certain types of folks that run that space, and so typically when you find a lot of money, you have to operate in a certain way. So a lot of people are buttoned up. They act a certain way, they answer questions in a certain way that for some can feel aggressive. For others, it can feel dismissive or so, noticing how when we’re visiting other universities and other makerspaces, how I feel, how the students interact with the space, how they talk about the space afterwards.
Even when we’ve initially met you, Dale.. One of the first things that we noticed, Joseph, one of the student employees that met you early on, he was afraid to come up and meet you. Like he did not wanna traverse the gap. One of the first things we did together was walk that gap together because I realized I was also afraid to meet you and that this was one of those opportunities to change it.
Those lessons around, like learning about like the different types of makerspaces out there, the different environments that it created, and then bringing us into those spaces and then feeling and then talking and then conversing about it and listening to each other. I think is the key here.
We have these pieces in place that, that mean so much to the environment, but you have to allow them to be, you have to be able to see it, recognize it, and then allow freedom of self-expression in order for the true power of each individual to emerge and then come together to form this unit.
And so now we’re forming this unit that’s supposed to serve the community. We bring in the community, ask the community what they want. We generate a list of items that we have hanging on the wall right now that was created by the community. As you’re hearing, it was a community process. It was everyone together, getting the ego out of the way and really sitting there and dealing with what we have in this community, what are our strengths and playing off of our strengths. And so recognizing that it’s not just about a robot, it’s not just about a machine, and it’s not just about software.
It’s about the people too. It’s about the creative nature of those people. And then and a lot of colors. We’re a colorful group in here.
Dale: Let me welcome Donnell Layne and Jason Kennedy from Moreno Valley College in Southern California. Good to see both of you. I had the pleasure of visiting your campus in the spring. Anything new about the school year at Moreno Valley?
Donnell: I want to say we’re making a concerted effort to bring everyone back to campus. That’s the new thing this year. It’s like everyone come on back. We’re really trying to make an effort on seeing people in person, having a lot of events on campus.
Dale: Jason, tell me where is Moreno Valley College and who does it serve.
Jason: We are one of the community colleges that are part of the Riverside Community College District. There’s three of them that are part of us. Moreno Valley College, Riverside City College, and Norco College. We are an Hispanic serving institution. Approximately 70 percent of our students identify as Latinx.
We are located in the Inland Empire region of Southern California, about halfway between Riverside and San Bernardino/Palm Springs, if you do a little triangle there. Our college is awesome. It is amazing, and our makerspaces are just world renowned.
We’re continuing to get back on track like Donnell mentioned. We’re getting a lot more students, a lot more in person, our workshops are in person again, so it’s good to see our community, our students, our K-12 partners, active in our makerspaces.
Dale: Tell me about the makerspaces you have.
Jason: Donnell and I started our operations in 2017-2018 with our mobile makerspace, and so we have a 38-foot recreational vehicle, our makerspace bus, sometimes referred to it as. While we were building our 4,200 square foot on-campus makerspace, we were developing and redeveloping our STEM bus. We redesigned it and that was very successful in 2019-2020 and right when we were about to open up the on-campus makerspace, COVID and the pandemic hit, so that was a tough one for us. So we shifted virtually and now are running all three operations for our makerspaces.
Dale: Tell me about the main space.
Donnell: This space we’ve designed to basically try to handle the different learning modalities that an individual can have. As many as we can fit in this space. And currently, there’s about five different areas. One area is in reference to advanced manufacturing. We have a textiles area where we have a 15-needle embroidery machine, a direct-to-garment printer, basically sticking T-shirts, sweaters, hats on a machine. It goes inside similar to a inkjet printer and it prints right onto the material.
You continue on down into our 3D printing area. We have 16 3D printers for our students to utilize. We have an industrial grade $80,000 3D printer for folks to actually finalize their prototyping. If they would like to come use the makerspace for prototyping, we have the equipment in-house. We created a bio area for folks interested in biology, where we teach aquaponics, hydroponics. We actually measure brainwaves. We have brain wave reading devices there. We have microscopes, centrifuges, micro injectors that will allow you to take the DNA from one organism and inject it into the zygote of another potentially making genetically modified organisms.
And then in the center of all of that, a 54 seat classroom where we where we dabble in virtual reality. We have a gaming lab. Flanking the sides of the classroom, the front, you have two 75-inch monitors that can either show one image that’s correlated across all six, or you can have six independent images going along as well.
Dale: When a new student to Moreno Valley College walks into your building, into your makerspace, what do they see?
Donnell: Nowadays it’s kids congregating. So we’re really lucky. We did an experiment with the culture, right? The culture in the environment to see if we can make it more sticky, if you would. Meaning that when students walk in, will they stay in?
So when you walk into the space, you see a bunch of color imagery that represent different cultures. You see access to different technologies. We have a radio shack wall. So let’s say if you all of a sudden had some great idea and you wanted a Raspberry Pi, you can walk right up to the wall, pull out a your own Raspberry Pi and start programming.
If you need help with that programming, that’s when you walk over to our front desk and sign up for additional training. We now have these reclining seats that are like beanbags that a lot of the students have taken a liking to. When the students walk in, they see a multitude of students sitting down in these beanbags, working together, talking, planning things, utilizing the equipment and sitting and waiting for some of the things to finish printing out. Jason, you have anything to add?
Jason: Yeah, definitely. This is all built on the backbone of the culture of the makerspace. We do a lot of sharing about our great makerspace we’ve built in the last five years, our multiple makerspaces with other colleges, other organizations across the country. We’ve really helped develop the culture through our staff, but really it’s our student employees.
We are up to 20 makerspace CTE student employees right now that can work part time. They’re all attending Moreno Valley College and they are the heart and soul along with Donnell and I and our three lab techs and learning center assistants get this place running and going.
Dale: That’s a really important point when the students need help, it’s other students helping them.
Working with the faculty
Jason: Students are teaching the faculty. Just last week we have two community practices. We just added our second one for virtual reality. We’re working with one of our software partners, Eon Reality, and we developed a faculty community of practice. Our student employees are part of this, and we have about nine makerspace faculty champions that are piloting this, and so during the month of September, we’re working with them, but they’re learning not only from the consultant, but they’re learning from the student employees to help develop curriculum that they integrate, and it’s a variety of different disciplines, Dale. We had English faculty there, math faculty, business accounting faculty in our making community of practice. We’ve had journalism, of course, computer science, early childhood education. It’s just a variety of different disciplines, and general ed, and of course, CTE, and STEM focused programs.
Dale: Was it a process?
Donnell: We basically went on a dog and pony show and started to ask who knew what a makerspace was. And most of the time the response was, I don’t know what that is. Can you please explain that in more detail? We got a chance to see that. First, we had to educate folks on what an actual makerspace was, then potentially what it could do for them without adding on to some additional hours to their workday, right?
What’s the benefit here? So we focused a lot on creating a safe space for the student, but not many folks talked to us about creating a safe space for the faculty and staff as well. We had to embark on doing that as well. Just like students have issues trying something new or can sometimes be afraid or feel more comfortable doing what they know, we saw the same thing in the older adults and with our faculty and staff. We had to create workshops in order for them to get their hands, quote, unquote, dirty, right? Get their hands onto the microprocessors, get their hands into the lessons that would lead to creating magazines. Jason, did you want to talk about that magazine project that we did in the community of practice?
Jason: We did a bunch of zines. We did a making day with our faculty. One in particular that jumps out at me one of our math professors, Gabrielle Florido, did a macrame zine. She taught lessons to our students and people that were there that day engaging in these making activities, but she made a custom zine. That was actually in partnership with Maker Ed. That’s been very helpful over the last few years to continue to develop, culturally responsive teaching, equity focused making within our community, because not only do we serve the 10,000 plus students at Moreno Valley College but our two feeder school districts in Val Verde and Moreno Valley Unified School District and our local community. We are partners for a lot of different organizations; the Cub Scouts and girls Scouts. And just a variety of different organizations we continue to partner with.
Getting support from the top leader
Dale: Has there been a greater awareness at the President level of the contribution that a makerspace makes to campus, the results it produces for students and faculty.
Donnell: Thank you for asking it. I think that our president has been a great champion for our makerspace, President Robin Steinbeck. She stops down here. She checks on us. She asks how things are going. She gives us space to talk about some of the great things that we’re doing. We’re in our President’s Management Council.
She’s most recently went to an entrepreneurship conference and pitched an idea that ended up winning the pitch competition. We’re leveraging the makerspace to further that idea as an incubator type of space to further ideas, which is what it’s really built for. Yes, our president has been a champion since day one for the makerspace here.
Dale: You talk about having lounge chairs or beanbags, and getting students to hang out in a space. You want kids to enjoy each other, have fun, to try things that they may not try in a class and, especially having all this technology around them, to try things that may be outside their comfort zone.
Jason: We’ve literally had people walk in that maybe didn’t know, especially in the early years, and go, wow, I had no idea this place existed. This place is amazing. I’m coming back. I’m bringing my mom, my dad, my brother, my sister, my grandma. And literally we just ran cricket workshops last semester and we had whole families coming along and participating in cricket or tinker coding.
We’ve had students come with their fifth grade teacher and they’re doing things and we still have do hybrids so people can do virtually. In the pandemic, we realized we were getting audiences not only from Moreno Valley in Southern California, we were getting participants, nationwide and internationally and so we were surprised and like we want to keep this going. Let’s offer our workshops where possible in a hybrid mode; in person of course to serve our local community and but also remotely as well.
Dale: I’d like to shift a little bit to find out a little bit more about each of you. You have interesting stories how you ended up where you are.
Donnell: I like to say I’m from the streets of Harlem, New York. Actually born in Harlem Hospital. The last sibling that was actually born there. I say I’m truly a Harlemite. Started out on the East Coast, New York City. Did my bachelors in New York City. And then the masters in the Midwest, going to Northwestern, and that’s where the engineering part came in. And so the technology, though, when I first jumped into technology, I think my major gig, and when I realized what I caught the bug for education in technology was at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, and at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions is where I recognized that –
Dale: you were working there?
Donnell: Working. Senior technical project manager, was in charge of converting them from DVDs into the streaming flash player model. It was flash at that time. That’s where I saw that there was a difference between the folks who could afford help. Who could afford to pay for tutors, who could afford to pay for the additional technology that they needed to pass or achieve the goals that they set for themselves.
And of course, I’m now part of that. That package that they paid for. And so I started to realize that I wanted to get myself back to the student that couldn’t necessarily pay for the talent, pay for the additional technology. So that led me to Chicago, working for the Noble Network of Charter Schools, where I was the director of IT.
They became the number one charter school network in the country. We had about 18 schools. One out of every ten public school students walking through the streets of Chicago went to a Noble Network of Charter Schools, right? So that’s how deep we got. Burned out in Chicago and then crawled, dragged myself all the way to California for the dream of finding a beach that would accept me.
And so I ended up five minutes away from the school here, living with my brother at the time.
Dale: You had told me previously you were doing social work.
Donnell: Yes, so right after college, thinking that I wanted to go and save the world, my professors kept telling me before you go make your millions, you got to go back and give back. And so I was like, okay, and became a Section 8 caseworker, which is one of the emotionally difficult spaces to be in. For you to be in a space where you’re essentially assisting families garner subsidy for their housing. You have to then recertify them on an annual basis to figure out how much they actually make, who’s living in that household, and what additional resources they might be able to pull from in case they’re no longer eligible for the Section 8 program. As you can imagine, that gets sensitive on a year to year basis.
You really have to have a lot inside in order to like to work your way through that of dealing with families and the trials and tribulations that they deal with.
And from those discussions and after three years and burning out there, I decided that I wanted to make a larger impact and it seemed technology gave me a way to not be so emotionally pulled in, but also allow me to still impact as many folks as I could. Technology, it’s a little cleaner. You have problems that you can solve like today, right, that doesn’t have these these variables that are almost impossible to like, make a difference on, on a short period of time.
Dale: Jason, give us an idea of your path.
Jason: I have a master’s and bachelor’s degree in geography, particularly geographic information systems or GIS and computer mapping. I also took several courses in my graduate school in urban planning and economic development and also completed quite a few towards a doctorate that I’m still in progress on in education focusing on teaching and learning at the community college level.
I’ve been at a few different community colleges , hired out of my master’s program to build a GIS and visualization curriculum to not only teach the courses in person and online. This was in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I worked at a state community college, but it was also a tribal college. So it was a unique minority-serving institution.
I had a chance to come back to California. I’m a native Californian living in southern and northern California. I’ve been back here almost 20 years now, and so it’s good to be back. I do have some great news also I wanted to share with you, Dale, and I’ve actually been promoted since I last chatted with you, so I’m going to be to doing workforce and economic development on a regional level for our college district now, covering our three colleges, and I know I will still be tied into and working with Donnell and all these great makerspaces with a little bit more emphasis on workforce and economic development now, so I’m excited for that change that’s going to be coming up shortly this month.
Engaging with the Future
Dale: Congratulations. As Donnell was describing some of the students walking into the space, have a really great idea about what the future is and what it holds for them. Some workforce programs reference the past more than the future. Donnell, we were talking about the future and how you wish you could get more kids engaged in what the future holds and how they can be a part of it. That’s pretty exciting stuff.
Donnell: Oh, absolutely. And it’s actually something that I’m seeing currently in the course that I’m teaching in introduction to informational systems, right?
The course is about like introduction to technology, really. And like really trying to see if you’re interested in going down this career path. If you’re just trying to learn more for your career, you just need to learn more about Word. This is a class for you.
I started asking particular questions like, what is your love for technology lie in? It started to go into innovation and how fast technology is moving and what’s happening with it. So that means we can now talk about innovation. So let’s talk about the James Webb Space Telescope. Does anybody know about that? No. Okay, so let’s talk about, let’s talk about the Starlink system and 44,000 satellites going around the globe to give us internet around the planet so that we’ll never have to worry about an internet connection again. Anybody know about that? No. Okay. We know we’re going to the moon, right? We’re doing space travel. Is anyone preparing for taking a trip to Mars? Does anyone know that we built a starbase in Texas? No. Does anyone know that we’re building the Starship?
This is a class of the average U. S. citizen. We’re presented now with this question. If we’re talking about workforce development what are they working towards then if they don’t know that these opportunities are there for them as well? If these career pathways are there, but they don’t know where they’re going, how do we prepare them properly for dreams that are not able to surface without the proper exposure of the innovation that’s actually happening currently in our civilization at this moment. We all went through the pandemic. We came up with a vaccine! Within a year! We got a vaccine within a year using this new method of genetic modification that now, honestly, we should now start talking about life extension, we should now start talking about, as we do in class, what are you going to do now that your life might last for double the amount of time that you planned for?
If on average you guys are going to live to 140, what’s your plan now? And, everyone’s looking at me because that’s the first time they’ve been presented with that question. I have an 85 year old student in my class and I asked her, what are you going to do now with those extra years?
I invited her down to the makerspace so that we could start prototyping and she came. These are the possibilities now, right? The amazing, like creation of the makerspace. This space that if it’s done, anything can come from it. It’s absolutely one of the most critical, I think, spaces for today.
Timing is everything. Now, yesteryear it was a garage. Before that you might have needed, I don’t know, some kind of special place in a corporation to have access to certain type of machinery, right? Today… It’s the makerspace and anything that I can do to promote this, anything that I can do to build more as, and in as many places in America as possible, I’m going to try to do– in the world.
Dale: That’s such a great message at the community college level, that there’s this future out there. You could be part. You get to create that future. It’s not set, right? We don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s not just a few kids that went to a few schools that get to do it. It can be you. And I think that’s the beauty of the community college. When we talk about innovation, we would be so much a better country if we were tapping into these resources, these human resources that are in every community college and developing them into people that can create that future. It’s something I hope that through a makerspace, that it’s something you do; it’s not something you talk about.
Donnell: That’s right.
Dale: It’s great to talk to you both. Is there anything I didn’t cover that you want to bring up? Jason, one of the things you referred to earlier, you guys have been really successful at getting grants to build out your space.
Jason: We’re very fortunate to be able to leverage our grants. Donnell has done a great job in working with our campus deans and our district grants office, even in our foundation. We just recently awarded a couple smaller grants through our Riverside Community College District Foundation.
We’re going to be doing a variety of different workshops working with Micro:bits. The future, of course, is ever present. It’s always here. And so we need to think about and start training these students for jobs of tomorrow today, that are happening now.
Donnel L: I would say a lot of the learning is bi directional. So we talked about we had to educate folks , but during that process, we’re getting educated as well. And Jason even started his own mentorship program within the makerspace. Jason, if you wanted a chance to mention that.
Jason: It was a challenge from our campus president. We talked about Dr. Steinbeck earlier. About six months ago, it was a challenge to the managers to connect with our students and our community. I started the four M program, the Mini Makerspace Mentoring Meeting program.
So I went through the whole previous last semester, and worked with our student employees. About the time we had about 15 of them. And so I met weekly, discussed, career goals, objectives, feedback, how can Donnell and I improve? What would you do if you were the supervisor and director for the day?
And they had great ideas and different suggestions, different things and how we can continue to grow and evolve in the makerspace and continue to grow into the future.