As an institution, how would you define 'maker culture'?

What is Maker Culture at Bucknell University? It’s do-it-yourself, it’s craft, it’s hand-made, plus all the tools the 21st century can offer us. It’s sewn, felted, rapid-prototyped, hewn, laser-cut, hand-finished and micro-chip controlled. It’s an expression of the Liberal Arts at Bucknell - taking technology, culture, environment, aesthetics and bringing it all together to create something of value uniquely your own.

Making is about using modern technological tools plus traditional handcrafting to create, repair, improve, and innovate. It may involve voiding your new computer’s warranty to install an array of flashing LEDs, sewing a hoodie that “pings” when you walk North, or forging your own sword. At Bucknell, this means students, staff, and faculty from across campus creating useful and beautiful items that erase disciplinary boundaries - engineers sewing, Management faculty wiring a theater, and a team creating medieval war machinery.  

How does your institution foster maker culture?

In three ways:

  • Environment: making sure there are spaces with appropriate tools, that students know where these are, and that it is expected that they will use them;
  • Training: offering students pathways to become proficient at tool use;
  • Opportunity: creating chances for students to do cool things with the tools and the training, such as competitions, in-class projects, interactions with the Small Business Development Center, or whatever it is they are personally excited about. 

How are you approaching maker education with your current or future curricula?

We are approaching this both through the faculty and through the students themselves.

On the faculty-side, Bucknell University prides itself on an undergraduate education focus, significant faculty-student interactions, and many opportunities for authentic learning. Making is a natural fit, as many courses include projects where students apply what they are learning to a real situation.

On the student side, we view making as a tools students are encouraged to bring to class, like their calculator. And like the calculator, it’s something they choose to bring in appropriate situations. We want students to be empowered and self-motivated to recognize when their work would be better if they made a prototype or if they added useful features to something. By making it part of the culture (see below), it becomes something students call upon at will when presented with the authentic learning experiences cited above.

Further, there are specific courses, such as “Should we start this company?” that call directly upon maker skills as students develop and test prototypes. 

What are the key programs, initiatives or classes that support the development of maker skills?

We call this our “Outside the Classroom” initiative - and it’s deliberately outside the curriculum because what we’re seeking here is cultural. We want to cultivate the culture of making and tinkering and the intrinsic motivation and growth mindset that accompany these.

Skills Workshops and B-Fab: Short, free, workshops open to all campus members on particular making skills - in the maker spaces and in the residence halls. Soldering, working with composites, cooking, for example. B-Fab (Bucknell Fabrication workshop) is a week-long intensive all-day workshop where students focused on prototyping skills across a variety of media, culminating in their production of a novel and useful item that they could pitch to potential investors.

Nifty Idea Fund: In the makerspaces we want students to be able to work on their own project. But they don’t always have the money for the materials to get started. Students write a short proposal outlining the scope of work and budget, and receive funding to get their work done.

Design Competitions: One-to-three day design jams for self-formed interdisciplinary teams. Teams are presented a challenge and must rapidly make an artifact to accomplish a given task. For example, one task was to photograph something placed on the top of the building.

KEEN Winter Design Experience (K-WIDE): The KEEN Winter Interdisciplinary Design Experience (K-WIDE) is a 10-day intensive program offered during January at Bucknell University. Interdisciplinary teams of engineers work for no credit or pay to imagine, prototype and pitch a device that will contribute to the solution of a wicked social problem. Past project themes have been Urban Infrastructure and Human Weight. Students grow in their technical abilities, but the focus of the program is to seed mindsets that will stretch them as designers, value creators and leaders.

How are your students involved in making? Are there maker groups or organizations on campus organized by students?

Our students are the focus of all of the activities mentioned above. Maker culture is part of one of our themed residential areas, the Entrepreneurship and Innovation house, a themed living/learning space for sophomore students.

There was a student-formed Maker Club, and while interest in this specific club has faded with the graduation of its founders, interest in making has grown. Philosophically, we would prefer to support making as a culture of engagement, rather than as a club. Clubs have members, which implies some people aren’t members. Focusing on culture creates a potentially more far-reaching and inclusive impact. 

Give a snapshot overview of the primary facilities, technologies and tools that campus makers have or will have access to?

Current main makerspaces:

  • Mooney Innovation Lab (College of Engineering): Standard hand-tools, some power tools, 3D printing, reserveable tables and lockers, and proximity to the Project Development Lab (more traditional shop space).
  • Art Barn Sculpture Studio (Art and Art History): Extensive wood and metal shop tools, 3D printer, Shop-Bot.

Current smaller spaces:

  • Digital Scholarship Center (Library and Information Technology): 3D printer and 3D scanner, along with CAD software. This is intended as a space for those not fully comfortable with the tools or technology to learn more in a low-risk environment.
  • Student Engineering Consulting Lab (Small Business Development Center): 3D printer and 3D scanner, along with CAD software. Engineering student interns assist local entrepreneurs and small businesses, including student startup ventures, to prototype and develop new products.

Upcoming makerspaces (2015):

  • Bucknell University Makerspace (Craft Center): Building on the current Craft Center space for student creation, this will broaden the space and capabilities to include a laser cutter, 3D printer, 3D scanner, and hand tools while maintaining the traditional craft center capabilities in painting, pottery, sewing, silk-screening, and small-scale woodworking. This is seen as the new heart for Makers at Bucknell.
  • Electrical and Computer Fabrication Lab (Electrical and Computer Engineering): In addition to 3D printers, this makerspace will feature the tools and materials needed to design and fabricate integrated circuits.  

How does your school engage with the maker community at large?

We have brought students and faculty to the World Maker Faire in New York to both display their projects and learn from others.

Engagement with the local maker community is at an early stage and ongoing. 

What partnerships (informal or formal) do you have with makers and/or community organizations outside of campus?

We support activities with local Boy and Girl Scouting groups, other maker-related engagement is at an early-stage and growing.  

What has been the impact of maker culture on your campus?

Student participation in on- and off-campus maker-based activities has increased. For just a few examples of off-campus activity: Students presented the engineering design process to hundreds of children at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. Work is underway on the 3rd pumpkin throwing trebuchet for the Susquehanna Valley pumpkin competition. Student participation in the robotics club is at an all-time high. Students ran a display at the World Maker Faire in 2014 for the first time.

We are also seeing an increase in students use of prototyping skills in their classes ranging from their first-year design experience through senior design.

All of these reflect high levels of student engagement, opportunities for increased self-efficacy, and potential for entrepreneurship.  

What are the success stories relating to your maker culture?

At the present time, the success stories are learning- and student-engagement centered rather than commercial. We have seen more students developing their maker skills and applying them both in- and out- of the classroom. We have seen ongoing interest in the student business pitch competition. However, the tools have not been in place long enough for them to come together to the first student maker-based product launch. However, given the focus on product development in B-Fab and design process in K-WIDE, and the popularity of these programs, we do not believe it will be long.