A maker culture is an open, supporting community that empowers students’ creativity and inner desire to use the skills they have developed, and enthusiastically challenge themselves to explore how far they can take their skills to make something real.
From our foundering motto of “Every Person, Every Study” to Engineering’s latest slogan of “Break the Rules,” Cornell has always sought to empower its students be hands-on and explore the ideas that they believe will lead to the next game-changing innovation. To enable a diversity of innovation, students are “making” every day, not only in their courses, but through programs like our free spirited Maker Club, the entrepreneurial idea incubators at the Popshop and Rev Ithaca Startup Works, and through Cornell’s more in-depth cross-disciplinary Student Project Teams program. Making is celebrated through events like BOOM (Bits on Our Minds), ECE Innovation Day, and the Student Project Team Fair to name a few. Many of these events also reach out to the community with special programs such as Xraise, Expanding Your Horizons (EYH), and those of Cornell Cooperative Extension to inspire the next generation of makers. Most recently, Cornell was honored to be the first university to officially partner with Make and sponsor this year’s NYC MakerCon to help strengthen the community of all makers.
Projects and hands-on endeavors have always been a cornerstone of the Cornell experience. Instead of every student repeatedly building the same project year after year, students are required to develop their own projects that showcase the concepts and techniques they have learned in their own new and exciting way. Although these are more challenging to provide guidance on or even grade, the reward of having our students be able think freely enables our students to see course material as tools, instead of just requirements. Furthering this, many courses are now requiring projects to be developed for real-world, often industrial clients. Here students work with real-world constraints and experience that making can be more than just about making something but how to truly make a difference.
Before “Making” became a movement, the maker spirit could be found and is still found in a number of programs but perhaps none so prominently as our Student Project Teams. These are student lead efforts with faculty advisors that focus on in-depth, interdisciplinary application experiences. These teams range in size from a half-dozen to as many as 100 students per team and include students from all of Cornell’s undergraduate colleges (almost 1000 students are currently engaged). Our own Maker Club was born out of the student project making spirit as an opportunity for smaller, self-forming projects to empower creativity. Ideas from the Maker Club may also help inspire and prove the validity for larger efforts such as new Student Project Teams or even research projects. We are also investigating ways to have Ph.D. students act as “rotating resources” for our Maker Club. There are also a number of classes such as Innovative Product Design via Digital Manufacturing, Advanced Microcontrollers, and Intro. to Rapid Prototyping and Physical Computing to name a few. These courses not only require making in their curriculum but are well known for inspiring projects that students continue beyond the course.
Cornell Engineering has its own Maker Club which is a university-wide organization sponsored primarily out of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department and Systems Engineering program. Student Project teams are also another major form of making at Cornell and include projects such as the Intel-Cornell Cup national embedded systems competition, the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle team, Cornell University Sustainable Design (CUSD), Formula SAE (FSAE), and Violet Satellite to name a few. Both the Maker Club and all of our Student Project Teams are led by students but also have faculty advisors and sometimes graduate student mentors that team members can turn to for feedback and guidance. Additionally there are student resources such as the PopShop, eLab and eHub and Rev Ithaca Startup Works which are focused on helping students turn their ideas in businesses.
Unlike many Maker spaces, many of the making resources are separated into specialized areas. This enables us to have expert technicians, machinists, and maintenance people in each area to answer a variety of students’ questions. The main resources include Emerson lab machine shop (mills, lathes, welding, CNCs), the Rapid Prototyping Lab (3D printers & laser cutters), a new specialized Electrical and Computer Engineering space being outfitted with 3D printers and soon to be a new PCB fab, and a Student Project Team space with separate team offices that also includes an Auto Shop and Painting Booth. In order to foster the maker community, not only does the Student Project team space offer collaborative areas as well, but the 7,000 sq.ft. Systems Engineering lab offers the Maker Club and many projects significant design, assembly, and test space with table space for over 150 students. Additionally there are spaces for makers that focus on entrepreneurship such as the PopShop, eHub and eLab located in the Collegetown downtown area, and a new workspace in Rev Ithaca Startup Works. Additional spaces are planned as part of the new Cornell NYC Tech Campus on Roosevelt Island in NYC.
Cornell engages with the Maker Community at large through a number of special events and long term programs. Cornell’s Xraise program is an excellent example of variety of ways Cornell seeks to engage with makers such as running:
This is just an example of the variety of ways Cornell engages with the Maker Community and other groups such as Cornell Cooperative Extension and Cornell’s School of Engineering run many programs of their own as well. Most recently, Cornell was also honored to be the first university to officially partner with Make and sponsor this year’s NYC MakerCon to help strengthen the community of all makers.
Cornell has numerous partnerships with maker and community organizations outside of campus. Some of the most significant include but are not limited to the Ithaca Generator (IG) Ithaca’s community MakerSpace, Sciencenter, the Greater Ithaca Activity Center (GIAC), the Ithaca Children’s Garden, the Ithaca Mayor’s Office, the Technology Student Association (TSA) from Ithaca High School, the Ithaca, Cortland, & Dryden 4-H Chapters, Ithaca College, Tompkins Community College, as well as many of the local public and charter schools.
The maker spirit transcends traditional departmental classifications, and by supporting a maker culture our students readily look across departments for the skills and talents that everyone can offer. Student project teams are becoming Engineering’s “sports” teams where collaborative sportsmanship wins over competition, academic achievement is “scoring”, and “winning” is making a difference. Cornell’s culture naturally embodies the maker culture that both seeks for students to believe in themselves and to recognize that they are capable of making far more than might have imagined possible.
KickSat, is a successful crowd-funded Kickstarter project to launch a large number of very small satellites, each about the size of cracker, from a 3U-CubeSat which launched April 18, 2014. This unique project opened outer space to everyone offering a "personal spaceflight"; the chance to effectively and affordably own and operate one's own KickSat satellite, as each qualifying KickSat supporter was given a firmware development kit to customize their own KickSat satellite Sprite.
Sunn is an example of a student design project’s entrepreneurial transformation. It began with the making of an LED light bulb and operational algorithm that can create light of the same color temperature of any time of day, anywhere in the world; not only to create energy efficient, beautiful light but to help treat seasonal effectiveness disorder. Since their first success as an EPA P3 grant winner, the project has become a company where some of the key inventor employees are still students at Cornell.
Intel-Cornell Cup is a national embedded systems competition being held at NASA Kennedy Space Center. The Cornell students who help host the competition also make cool robots that have been shown off at Walt Disney World, like a first generation R2-D2 and C-3PO and humanoid robots that can play RockBand the video game on expert with 98% accuracy. The Intel-Cornell Cup also creates professional design guides that empower students across the country to make even better designs. So Cornell doesn’t always aim to make the better embedded system, it aims to make the community of makers better.