Maker Profile

Who are you and what do you make?

My background as an engineer and as a maker started in grade school – first with Legos and later with electric trains. By high school, I was working with wood and primarily doing turnings. As an undergraduate at Trine University, I was exposed to both casting and 3d printing; so naturally, I tried to combine the two using the printer to make molds for green sand casting. A mechatronics course took me back to my roots with electric trains but also introduced me to microprocessors; I was hooked and went into graduate school at Missouri University of Science and Technology to study mechatronics. As a graduate student, my focus shifted toward the design of mechatronic systems, and I earned my MS from Missouri S&T and my PhD from Oregon State University.

Now I’m an educator and a researcher, so lately, I’m less the maker and more the “maker educator”. I’m a huge proponent of incorporating design/build activities throughout the engineering curriculum, so when I teach a class, I usually incorporate a strong hands on component. I currently run the Department’s sophomore design course sequence which incorporates a strong design/build element. I co-teach a realization course and have taught both CAD and prototyping. Also, I am currently the intuitional PI on an NSF funded project to study the impact of university Maker Spaces on student learning and retention.  

What's the favorite thing you've made?

I have a lot of favorite projects, but perhaps the most rewarding is being the coordinator and an instructor for our department’s two-course sophomore design sequence where students design and construct human-powered vehicles for individuals with cerebral palsy. The course project, which was initially started six years ago by Dr. Pierrakos and Dr. Pappas, not only teaches students the process of engineering design, but also pushes students to explore and collect feedback on their design ideas through sketching and prototyping. Students make dozens of sketches and drawings through the first course leading into near weekly prototypes in the second course. The course concludes with each student team presenting a final working design to their client at an end-of-year expo.  

What's your go-to Maker skill and/or tool?

Lately, my go to maker tool is the Stratasys Dimension 3D printer. It is reliable and versatile, and the printed ABS parts pair great with wood making very functional proof-of-concept prototypes.

What's been your biggest Making challenge?

The biggest challenge that I face as a “maker educator” is helping students to transition from idea toward reality. I find students hesitant to sketch our their ideas, and the learning curve for many parametric modeling programs is still pretty steep. This creates a bit of a roadblock that has to be taken down.    

How would you define 'Maker culture'?

I define the Maker Culture as a community of practice comprised of individuals coming from all walks of life and united around a common theme of making and doing.  

How is Maker culture transforming your campus?

The engineering curriculum at James Madison University incorporates a strong design build component. Students have access to general fabrication spaces, 3d printing spaces, and machining spaces. The spaces are used for course project work, research activities, and apprenticeship training.

Across campus, spaces such as the 3-Space classroom have allowed faculty to incorporate 3D printing into courses and outreach activities, and workshops, such as the Center for Instructional Technology’s 3D printing sandbox, and have fostered new faculty collaborations.

Through the maker culture, I believe we are seeing an increase in student and faculty cross-departmental collaborations that impact not just the campus, but also the community.  

How can Making contribute solutions to big problems?

Making and Maker Spaces have the potential to engage students by supplementing traditional curricular activities with student-driven, open-ended projects requiring hands-on designing, prototyping, modeling, and testing. It is through this potential to engage that I believe Making can transform how students learn, and to understand this impact, I am currently working on a NSF-funded research project with Georgia Tech and Texas State focused on understanding how we can leverage maker spaces and the maker movement to improve student retention, foster diverse learning environments, and promote multi-disciplinary teams.

What are the challenges facing Making in higher education?

The belief that Making is Engineering. I don’t see making as housed in any one discipline. The Making culture has the power to influence many different domains, bring people together, and foster multi-disciplinary learning.  

Why do you think Making is an important 21st century skill for students?

I don’t see Making as a skill. Making involves a variety of skills. I believe that making can foster creativity and innovation – skills required for a growth mindset. Making can teach students that it is ok to fail as long as they learn from their failures and try again.  

What advice would you give to someone who is new to Making?

The Maker Culture is a community of practice. If you find a maker, you have found a maker educator. Ask questions, engage, and learn from them.