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

The maker culture at UMass Amherst comes from a combination of technology and community that is based on our strong tradition of engaged scholarship.

How does your institution foster maker culture?

We foster a maker culture by creating campus makerspaces that are used for a variety of purposes, including coursework, extracurricular activities, and outreach, and staffing them with excellent faculty, professional staff, and student workers.

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

Our capstone design courses in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering and Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering frequently utilize maker skills and our makerspaces. Many informal projects and faculty-guided independent study projects also have strong connections to making. 

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

Our capstone design courses in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering and Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering support the development of maker skills, as do many informal projects and faculty-guided independent study projects.

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

In April 2014 our student chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) used the M5 makerspace in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering to host HackUMass, a 24-hour hackathon in which undergraduate students from across the Northeast created everything from automated parking meter payment systems to portable health monitoring systems inspired by Star Trek tricorders.

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

M5, a 5,000 sq. ft. academic Makerspace in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, was created in 2008. M5 integrates laboratories, large presentation spaces, small meeting rooms, a recording studio, a machine shop, a 3D printing zone, and a comprehensive free parts zone (electronic and mechanical) to support a broad range of individual and collaborative activities, formal and informal instruction and mentoring.

The Innovation Shop, housed in our Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, was recently established with a gift from Altra Industrial Motion Inc. and contains sophisticated manufacturing equipment like 3D printers, a water-jet cutter, and a computer-controlled four-axis mill. The mechanical tools and electrical components, together with hardworking and curious students, provide a unique environment for discovery and learning. Our students use the Innovation Shop extensively for course-based and extra-curricular projects, many of which provide a service to members of the local community.

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

We engage by hosting various outreach activities in our campus facilities, usually designed for middle and high school students, as well as partnering with a nonprofit organization to provide an off-campus “town-gown” makerspace.

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

A new joint effort among the College of Natural Sciences, College of Engineering, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and the Town of Amherst (MA) has established a “town-gown Makerspace” that hosts community and youth STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) programs that combine creativity and technology. A team of faculty, in partnership with staff at Amherst Media, a local non-profit communication and technology center, runs a series of maker workshops paired with weekly free-form open makerspace hours at the Amherst Media facility. This blended format allows students of all levels to envision and start new projects, complete activities at their own pace, and have the freedom and support to explore those ideas. Our long-term goal is to build a permanent makerspace as part of the new Amherst Media facility to be constructed within easy walking distance of both Amherst middle and high schools. We aim to encourage Amherst youth in positive, self-guided out-of-school STEAM experiences, to learn how to make these programs self-sustaining, and to eventually help establish similar makerspace programs in the nearby cities of Holyoke and Springfield, both of which have a high percentage of multicultural students.

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

We have more effectively engaged our students in their own educational journey, as well as provided a means to connect students and faculty with the local community. 

What are the success stories relating to your maker culture?

Ryan Wade, a five-year-old from nearby Northampton MA, is unable to perform many activities of daily life without assistance from caregivers, because he has a rare condition known as radiohumeral fusion that doesn’t allow him to flex his elbow. A team of students from our Mechanical & Industrial Engineering Department and College of Nursing worked with Ryan and his family to assess his needs, and then design and build a body-powered mechanical arm that allows him to independently perform tasks like adjusting his glasses, wiping his mouth with a napkin, and feeding himself. The resources of the Innovation Shop were important in giving the students the ability to iterate through many versions of the design, from cardboard, to wood, to the final version made out of lightweight plastic using cutting-edge 3D printing technology.