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

The maker culture at Penn State is defined by a creative and collaborative culture that takes an iterative, hands-on approach to learning and doing. In our maker culture, numerous state-of-the-art digital design and fabrication tools are readily available for students, faculty, staff, and researchers to experiment, build, deconstruct, analyze, reverse engineer, and test new ideas and innovations in safe, low risk, and interdisciplinary environments. This culture along with its associated educational, research, and outreach practices foster new discoveries and insights while accelerating knowledge transfer and creation across the university and within the local community.

How does your institution foster maker culture?

The maker leaders within Penn State are undertaking innovative education, research, and outreach activities to engage the community “maker” leaders in the greater State College area as well as other regions around our Commonwealth campuses—both urban and rural. The University and the communities it serves are aligning strategically through a number of opportunities for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and residents to strengthen and expand this maker culture. Students and other makers are able to participate in a wide number of maker experiences, including formalized course offerings, student-run entrepreneurial organizations, and grass roots community maker space opportunities. This rich mix of maker environments continues to enrich both the University and the communities across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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

Maker experiences are vertically integrated with the curriculum in the College of Engineering and incorporated into numerous courses in the College of Arts & Architecture, Earth & Mineral Sciences, Information Sciences & Technology, Health & Human Development, Liberal Arts, and Business. Courses are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and we are continually identifying new ways to engage students in the maker culture earlier in their college experience. Penn State’s Learning Factory coordinates the nation’s largest senior capstone design program in any College of Engineering, engaging more than 900 students each year in an authentic, hands-on experience enabled by our maker resources and culture. These industry partnerships are being leveraged to expand the educational offerings that involve making and create informal educational activities (e.g., pitch competitions, design challenges, industry projects, student clubs) to enhance the curriculum. Summer internship programs in many of the 3D printing and additive manufacturing research labs provide yet another avenue for education and outreach related to our maker culture.

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

The largest “making” effort is coordinated by the award-winning Learning Factory at Penn State. Through a network of facilities, over 900 engineering students in 13 departments each year experience a real-world design/build project with an industry sponsor, central to which is a hands-on/making component. Meanwhile, over 2000 first-year engineering students engage in a similar design/build project each year with an industry sponsor, with many ideas leading to patents and follow-on research and course projects. Sophomore- and junior-level design courses are available for students in four departments and growing, and technical electives at the undergraduate and graduate level have been revamped within the past two years to embrace the maker culture. All of these courses offer formal hands-on training programs to certify students and ensure a safe working environment. Similar “maker” courses and practices are available in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Visual Arts, Theater, Sculpture, engaging students from freshmen through senior year. Finally, Penn State’s new university-wide entrepreneurship and innovation minor has become a focal point for many of these maker efforts and a conduit for engaging local entrepreneurs and makers in the community.

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

Students are actively involved in making, both in and out of class. Students initiated and formalized the creation of a 3D Printing Club at Penn State, and other entrepreneurial clubs on campus (e.g., Innoblue, Lion Launch Pad) promote making and leverage the resources available on campus for pitch competitions, Hackathons, and other events. Penn State’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, run by the Small Business Development Center, is the 3rd highest attended student event in the world that week, and nearly a dozen student start-ups are created and nurtured each year within New Leaf, the local co-working space formed by Penn State alumni that have embraced making and doing. Several of these student start-ups are now providing “making” resources and expertise the local community, e.g., 3D printing services, computer-aided design work, and software to facilitate making. Meanwhile, more than 20 faculty and their graduate students have gone through TechCelerator, a start-up boot camp offered by Ben Franklin Technology Partners. Working with Penn State and the local makers, more than 40 starts-ups have been launched in the past 3 years, many actively involving students in their efforts.

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

More than 25,000 sq. ft. of space is available at Penn State University Park, offering tools, technologies, and equipment to support campus makers. More than 5000 students from at least 5 different colleges access this space each year once they are trained and certified for operation. The resources available include more than 40 3D printers, nearly a dozen 3D scanners, more than 15 CNC mills and lathes, over 20 manual mills and lathes, 3 laser cutters, 1 water jet cutter, a CNC router, and numerous tools for bending, shaping, forming metal along with a complete wood shop. Over $5M worth of state-of-the-art equipment for additive manufacturing and inspection of metallic materials is also available for research and educational activities (students as well as industry training) in Penn State’s Innovation Park facilities. Similar make spaces and fabrication facilities are also available at Penn State Altoona, Behrend, Berks, Great Valley, Hazelton, and Hershey, providing more than 10,000 additional square feet of space and resources within the Penn State system.

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

Faculty and students have participated in Maker Faires, showing Penn State’s 3D printing and “making” capabilities, and faculty and students are active in numerous 3D printing and additive manufacturing conferences as well as educational conferences that study the pedagogical impact of “making”. We have also organized and hosted several Technology Exchanges to focus on different aspects of the technology (materials, applications, impacts on small/mid-size enterprises), and we partner with America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, on several research and educational projects. For instance, this summer faculty at Penn State will be organizing and leading an ASM “Teacher’s Camp” along with faculty at Carnegie Mellon to train middle/high school teachers in 3D printing and related technology. We have also received funding from the National Science Foundation to conduct a workshop on education and training needs related to additive manufacturing, which engaged more than 25 schools who shared best practices in their “maker spaces”. Finally, we have been working closely with ASME to launch their new 3D Printing Design Challenge and serve as the chair of the Executive Advisory Committee for their inaugural Additive Manufacturing & 3D Printing Conference (August 2015, Boston, MA).

Meanwhile, the Open Lab in Knowledge Park at Penn State Behrend is pioneering new interfaces and channels for partnering with industry sponsors through maker related activities, and the Catalyst Space at Penn State Altoona is leading the regional culture change. Finally, the Surgical Innovation Group at Penn State Hershey fosters collaborations among doctors, surgeons, engineers, and makers to realize novel medical devices and interventions to improve patient care and treatment

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

Penn State University Park students worked with the Borough of State College to launch the local Make Space in State College, PA, and they have continued to grow and engage the local maker community through this effort. Recently, 14 organizations joined a coalition to grow this effort regionally, creating a pipeline of makers within the community. Numerous tours of our “make spaces” have been organized for local community members, including 50 members of the Centre Regional Entrepreneurs Network, as well as 200-300 middle/high school students, which tour our “make spaces” and visit the College of Engineering Design Showcase semi-annually. We are currently organizing a “Maker Week” at the local community library for the summer 2015 in conjunction with our ASM “Teacher’s Camp” in 3D printing, and discussions are underway with the local children’s hands-on science museum (Discovery Space) to feature 3D printing and making more prominently in the community. Penn State is also partnering with New Leaf, a local co-working space founded by Penn State alumni in State College, PA to create similar initiative at the Commonwealth campuses. Finally, Penn State has invested significantly in the former Connelly Center in Pittsburgh, PA to create a regional education/maker space centered around energy innovation and energy efficient buildings. These activities are leveraging best practices that Penn State helped lead at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, engaging countless small, medium, and large business as well as long entrepreneurs in making, education, and training related to energy efficiency and innovation.

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

There is now widespread interest in 3D printing across the entire campus thanks to the maker culture that has evolved through our teaching, research, and service/outreach activities. Penn State has helped promote stories about 3D printing that have helped fostered this interest, and the student interest is infectious, helping interest grow beyond traditional “making” domains of engineering and the arts. For instance, faculty in Anthropology and Information Sciences & Technology were early adopters of the technology, seeing opportunities to 3D printing CT scan data, specifically human skulls and faces, related to their research interests. Interest in developing new materials has thus grown in materials science and chemistry, and faculty in psychology and business are studying the organizational implications and supply chain impacts of “maker” technology and the innovations that it enables. Visual arts, new media, integrate arts, theater, and sculpture programs are also embracing the maker culture and expanding the courses, programs, and resources available.

What are the success stories relating to your maker culture?

The first commercial entity to offer 3D printing services in the State College, PA area was launched by an undergraduate engineering student, Joseph Sinclair ( His company, Solid Dynamics LLC, now operates more than a dozen 3D printers, has opened a second office, and employs more than a half-dozen people to staff his operation. Another student start-up, Mobius Solutions, is developing new software to expedite creation of solid models for 3D printing. 

Matt Brezina, a Penn State alum from Information Sciences & Technology, has launched two successful companies in Silicon Valley, Xobni and Sincerely, and is providing funding to launch the Summer Founders Program, which will provide $10,000 grants to student entrepreneurs to explore their start-up potential in lieu of a summer internship. 

The Center for Performing Arts at Penn State University Park received a $200,000 grant from the Doris Duke Foundation for their Creative Campus program. This enabled nearly 100 students and faculty in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Dance, and Engineering to partner on an interdisciplinary “make” project that engaged more than 500 local community members and culminated in the world premiere of Transit Space, a new performance by Los Angeles-based dance troupe Diavalo, which pushed their creative boundaries in a new direction: “Architecture in Motion”. 

Dr. Pan Michaleris, a leading expert in modeling and simulation of additive manufacturing processes for 3D printing metallic components, has also spun out a company, Pan Computing LLC ( to license the software that he has developed and validated through his research at Penn State.