Maker culture is the ecosystem promoting the freedom to express students’ inner creativity and bring their ideas to life while supporting them to use their skills, connecting them to like-minded thinkers, and building a community that enjoys being challenged to become better. It encompasses the whole spectrum, starting at ideation to creation, ending with sharing and presentation of the product.
The University of Michigan has a history of strong student design teams, which are student led and organized teams that prepare year round to compete nationally. These range from a few students to as many as 150 on a team and stress interdisciplinary cooperation. Making is additionally celebrated through Engineering sponsored expos – Major Design and Multidisciplinary Design Project expos. Until recently, the vast majority of Maker experiences have been offered by the university and were course-based. In 2014, MPowered Entrepreneurship, a student organization that exposes students to entrepreneurship, took inspiration from one of its many projects, MHacks, and hosted the university’s first Makeathon. Makeathon is a 36 hour product design competition where participants work in teams to develop prototypes of their ideas along chosen themes and present them at an expo to other participants, UofM students, and sponsors.
Michigan is renowned for its project based courses and extensive hands-on curricula. While many of the entry level courses follow the syllabus closely and all students have the same projects, as one progresses in their education, they’re encouraged to take chances and pursue individual interests. Senior design courses are typically open ended endeavors with the student team stepping out of their comfort zone, and learning to explore creative ways to solve their problem. In recent years, many of these upper level project courses are requiring that the student teams work with a client to develop solutions that can be implemented in the real world, allowing them to learn to navigate the challenges that arise in developing an effective and cost sensitive solution, but most importantly, giving them an opportunity to make a positive difference in the community around them.
Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovate Blue jointly manage the Program and the Minor in Entrepreneurship, which focuses on providing students with flexible but well-rounded opportunities to explore different facets of entrepreneurship, like idea incubation, startup finance, developing maker skills etc. One of these many areas is “making”; through partnerships with the School of Art and Design and the College of Engineering, the CFE offers classes to train in the metal/wood shops, among the sewing studios, as well as other more advanced classes. Apart from this program, maker culture can prominently be seen in the student design teams, like the Solar Car, Formula, or Hybrid racing teams. Completely student run and interdisciplinary, these teams stress hard skills like designing, prototyping, and production, but also soft skills such as teamwork and leadership. The College of Engineering offers a Multidisciplinary Design Project Minor to its students who wish to take their involvement with a student team to the next level. Which includes additional classes to build upon designing skills in both hardware and software. These courses and teams require large investment from the participants, and many students use these experiences as a starting point and continue working on their projects beyond the course.
Michigan’s resources are well spread out across the campus, allowing students to have access to experts and experienced managers and technicians for assistance. The School of Art and Design is home to a metal shop, wood shop, sewing studio, as well as a few CNC Routers and laser cutters. The Mechanical Engineering building has its own metal shop and training facilities for its students. Similarly, the Electrical Engineering building houses a micro-soldering lab and PCB training center. All student teams are headquartered in the Wilson Center, decked with an Auto Shop, Painting Booth, as well the standard tools (mills, lathes, etc), and extensive testing space. Lastly, the Duderstadt Center is outfitted with a 3D Lab, where students can work on individual or class projects, and be provided with ample assistance to create the best product possible. All these locations require students to pass training to gain access, in the interest of safety. Additionally, the Center for Entrepreneurship has four different locations on campus which offer collaborative space and guidance to further student’s innovations.
An official maker network is just beginning at Michigan; what used to be a loose network of individuals was brought together by Makeathon. Year by year, the community has become more integrated; and this year we want to especially focus on establishing a solid communication platform. Additionally, we are working on collaborating and expanding the impact of Makeathon by involving bringing prominence to other aspects of making, such as art and design, as well as a presentation element. We aim to diversify the event by adding an Art Show and a Case Competition, which will hopefully offer a more enriching user experience. We are additionally taking initiatives to develop mutual partnerships with local organizations and companies, some that are based on a national level and others that are Ann Arbor specialties. Lastly, we believe that joining the Make Schools network is an important step in the right direction to connect with other universities across the nation which share a common vision and mission.
Traditionally, “making” was a field restricted to mainly engineering and art and design students through coursework and design teams. But with the start of an official Makeathon on campus, this platform has been opened to the entire university and to students of all majors. There was a noticeable philosophical change in the university atmosphere; Makeathon embodied the exciting mantra of creation and widely encouraged students to bring their ideas to life. It started a movement of people building together. In the second year this competition was held (2015), there was a sizeable portion of the participants from the College of Literature, Science, and Arts as well as the Ross School of Business. This year (2016), we are aiming to widen the impact of Makeathon by adding elements to attract business students and more traditional art students.