As one of the few liberal arts colleges with an engineering program, we have a unique collection of innovators, inventors, tinkerers, artists and crafters, all of whom can be called Makers. On any given night, students across campus are sewing costumes in the theater, soldering robotic sensors, and converting popcorn machines into coffee roasters. Maker Culture at Union College consists of anyone on campus, faculty, staff and most of all students, with even a grain of creative spirit.
Our ambition is to set a new standard for Makerspaces in the liberal arts. As one of the few liberal arts colleges with an engineering program, Union College is uniquely poised to act as a bridge between the conventionally tech-centric Makerspace movement and the liberal arts, as exemplified by the Engineering and Liberal Education Symposium we’ve hosted since 2008.
The key to integrating Makerspaces into the liberal arts (and vice versa) lies in establishing organic opportunities for creative innovators in our community to interact, pool their resources and share their skills.
Rather than anchoring our culture in a central Makerspace, we are instead unifying our existing creative facilities to form a distributed “MakerWeb” -- an innovation ecosystem. Running the MakerWeb is the Union MakerCorps, a vanguard of undergraduates tasked with dispersing the skills of innovation throughout campus via providing hands-on workshops and peer mentorship opportunities.
Union offers Faculty Teaching Grants in order to foster curricular innovation, and faculty are encouraged to use these grants to integrate maker-based modules into their courses. An example of one such endeavor is Professor Andy Burkett’s “English Manor House Literature” course, in which students designed, and then 3D printed, their own “Downton Abbey” style manor homes.
Maker skills are developed throughout the curriculum and across the campus - not just in electrical engineering or mechanical engineering classes, but also in visual arts, english literature, and theater arts classes. The Union MakerCorps are also actively engaged in peer mentorship and training opportunities which support Maker skills.
There are several student groups involved in Maker Culture.
Currently, the majority of making happens in the Union Collaborative Design Studio (UCDS), which houses a Stratasys Objet Connex500 3D printer as well as six Makerbot printers and a Cubify 3D scanner. Our Engineering Machine Lab has a fully equipped machine shop, as well as a FARO Laser scanner. Other tools of creativity (3D printers, laser cutters, soldering irons) are scattered throughout campus.
We’re currently working with the library to create a tool lending library, and working with other departments across campus to open up their creative spaces to the entire Maker community.
We’re looking forward to hosting a Schenectady Mini Maker Faire in the near future!
Several of our faculty and staff are also founding members of the Troy-based Tech Valley Center of Gravity.
The impact has been a tremendous increase in creative potential across the campus!
I think the project I'm most proud of is the work of Caroline Brustowicz, a Visual Arts/Computer Science Interdisciplinary Major. Caroline has ben collaborating with Fashion4Freedom (F4F), a social enterprise organization devoted to cultural preservation in Central Vietnam. F4F has found a way for local artisans to use their woodcarving skills to produce high-fashion carved wooden shoes. Caroline has been working with F4F to start a conversation comparing 3D printing to wood carving. She has scanned a carved shoe with a FARO scanning arm, and has been printing replicas on our Makerbot Replicator. Caroline was recently picked as a Union College Minerva Fellow, which means that upon graduation she gets to spend a year in Vietnam working directly with F4F.