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

‘Maker culture’ at the University of Oregon can be defined as an ecosystem that fosters the creative endeavors of students, faculty and the extended community. Through interdisciplinary collaboration between diverse fields such as; Art, Architecture, Product Design, Science, Journalism, Business, and Law along with external partners from local micro industry to global manufacturing, we create critically motivated and exciting projects, research, products, businesses and entrepreneurs that contribute positive growth in our community and beyond. Developing viable products through unconventional making and testing is a part of our DNA at the University of Oregon, and this has been embedded since Bill Bowerman, the cofounder of NIKE, made his first track shoe prototypes with a waffle iron in 1970’s. Through studio based courses, students learn about haptic and embodied experience in working with the material, objects and spaces of visual and material culture. Our emphasis is on the inextricable linkage of making and critical thinking.

How does your institution foster maker culture?

University of Oregon maker culture is fostered by an institutional commitment to inquiry across teaching, research, community engagement, and continued support for alumni. The university values ‘making’ as a central catalyst for interdisciplinary discourse and collaboration, and believes in a studiobased, deeply engaged curriculum. 

1. Teaching and learning is at the core of the cultivation of maker culture. In 2008 the Departments of Architecture and Art jointly developed the Product Design Program by marshaling opportunities in industry and a culture already rich in a synthesis of diverse methodologies. Product Design was founded as a studio based program born out of principles that are quintessentially Northwestern: environmental and social responsibility, and innovation related to sustainable materials, domestic life, culture, government, and pedagogy at all levels.

2. Faculty research is also at the core of maker culture, as it simultaneously draws on and exports the work coming out of our community while importing maker culture from industry and academics worldwide. Through Internship opportunities with faculty researchers, it is common for faculty and students  to develop a relationship of reciprocal research investment and exchange.

3. The University of Oregon relies on community engagement as a way to diversify resources at the institution while giving students, faculty, and staff opportunities to engage maker culture that would otherwise be unavailable. These relationships are invaluable, both through the access it affords our community to a brain trust of makers, and the opportunity for us to reciprocate by incubating local practitioner’s projects or providing new opportunities for local businesses who may be threatened by obsolescence or global markets.

4. The University of Oregon strives to support student makers both during and after their studies. Our community regularly supports student startups either through in-kind donations of access and resources, or opportunities for external funding and awards. Students are also successfully mentored for opportunities to receive prestigious awards like the National Windgate Fellowships in Craft and invitations to exhibit at the Salone Satellite at the Salone Del Mobile during the Milan Design Week and International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City. Service Learning also sets up invaluable affiliations with industry where our students benefit through internships, job placement, and generative professional relationships rooted in maker culture.

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

Maker education is approached with a breadth and depth in our

curriculum in the following ways:


Learning Studiobased practices enable students to interrogate ideas in ways that are researched and critical, yet speculative and open to a range of often unexpected outcomes. We examine the significance of making in a multivalent culture with expanding modes of production, and the increasing disconnect from making and bodily knowledge as a cultural condition. We study embodied knowledge and its relationship to technological, emergent modes of production.

Students learn through studio based Art courses including Ceramics, Fibers, Jewelry and Metalsmithing, Sculpture, and Printmaking among others. In Product Design, students study a broad range of tools curricula, experimental materials labs, and computer aided design and production.

2. Critical and Theoretical Seminars - Students examine current and historical issues central to visual material culture, and locate their practices within this evolving context. In their studio practice and research, students are responsible for understanding, synthesizing, and articulating a critical perspective within contemporary design, art, craft and architecture discourse. They are expected to become creative thinkers and conceptual problem solvers.

3. Interdisciplinary collaboration -  The University of Oregon is currently developing several interdisciplinary initiatives that are rooted in maker culture. A Master of Science in Sports Product Design is a joint venture by the Product Design Program in the School of Architecture and Allied Arts and the College of Business. At the undergraduate level, a degree that is the synthesis of all of the programs in the School of Architecture & Allied Arts is in its initial phases of development.

4. Engagement with the Real World - Students have many opportunities to study in an internship capacity as well as engage in community based projects such as Sustainable Cities.

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

At the University of Oregon the maker culture came out of making, not access to “maker’s” tools. The culture happens in the courses; Designer’s Tools, Experimental Materials Lab, Alternative Materials, Computer Assisted Design and Production, Urban Farm, and Design Build housed in Architecture, Art, Craft, and Product Design studios.

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

Students are always engaged in making through curricula and self initiated involvements with the many student-run maker groups and organizations at the University of Oregon. Some are a part of national organizations and others are specific to the university. Most groups are student run with some faculty involvement, and they provide a platform for students to connect with the broader field and community.

1. Students are involved with national groups such as the IDSA student chapter of the Industrial Design Society of America, Design for America, and the Society of North American Goldsmiths.

2. On campus, students lead the Hopes Conference (Holistic Options for Planet Earth Sustainability), a sustainable design conference that brings students, faculty and the community together through inviting prominent guest lecturers and workshops.

3. Design Bridge is a campus student organization linking the school of Architecture and Allied Arts with the surrounding community by offering weekend design workshops, full design development services, and integrated design-build practices.

4. Maker is a student run group initiated by students in the Jewelry & Metalsmithing program within the Art Department. 

5. EMU Craft Center is a student-run workspace, opened to students, faculty as well as community. It houses nine workshops including comprehensive support for projects in ceramics, fiber arts, glass, metal, paper art, photography, printmaking, and woodworking.

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

Ellis Lawrence, who founded the School of Architecture and Allied Arts (A&AA) at the University of Oregon in 1914, sought to build a “school of makers”. From the outset, A&AA has embraced a synthesis of hand and machine, which integrates diverse methodologies. We seek to develop hands-on experiences that enhance learning and building competencies for future inquiry. Our spaces are designed to be creative, innovative, welcoming environments where individuals and teams can ideate and iterate freely. Though our primary facilities are housed in the Eugene campus, we also support many programs at our urban campus in Portland, Oregon.

Our 100-year investment in making has led to a culture of porosity with traditional and high-tech facilities that support it. Traditional facilities support metal fabrication, machining, and casting, ceramics, fibers, wood, printmaking, photography, and letterpress. Newer technologies include a range of CNC mills, 3D printers, laser cutters, 3D scanners, vinyl cutters, large and small format 2D printing, physical computing spaces, lighting studios, and animation labs. We also have a number of unique facilities such as the student-run Material Research Center, an Energy Studies Building Lab, the Baker Light Lab, and the Technical Science Lab.

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

The University of Oregon provides access to our maker spaces by offering workshops and residencies to the local community and organizing  conferences and lectures to involve and educate a broader audience. In classes, students work with local micro manufacturers to develop product lines geared toward competing in a fast and evolving market. Nationally and internationally, we exhibit and present recent innovations in student work through fairs, exhibitions, blogs and business start up incubators. Examples of our community engagement locally, nationally, and internationally include Innovation lab in Portland, the EMU Craft Center, and the Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network as well as lecture, exchanges with peer institutions, student & faculty exhibitions, and participation in design fairs.

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

At the University of Oregon we recognize and embrace the power and specificity of place. The Pacific Northwest affects what we do and how we think. Our work is philosophically embedded in a region built on the frontier spirit. The entrepreneurship of Oregon has given us the opportunity to develop and nurture partnerships regionally with Arcimoto, Eugene Water and Electric Board, Pendleton, StoveTec, and Portland Design Week as well as nationally with Ikea and Nike.

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

The five ideas that are central to the University of Oregon’s mission include Sustainable cities, The Americas in a globalized world, Global Oregon, Human health and performance, and Green product design. These are inherently intertwined with ideas that surround local manufacture, regionalism and a resurfacing interest in maker culture. Further, the university at large is becoming interested in the way that studio-based inquiry captures embodied learning as a concrete learning outcome, and the increased student retention and completion of degree programs in studio-based disciplines.

What are the success stories relating to your maker culture?

Ditch Projects is an internationally acclaimed, artist-run studio, installation and performance space founded and operated by University of Oregon students, faculty, and staff. Firmly rooted in art making, Ditch Projects provides a platform to artists producing challenging and innovative work in diverse media, cultivates a network of likeminded groups and organizations, and stimulates public interest in contemporary art. Since 2008, Ditch Projects has organized 61 exhibitions of work by international and national artists and designers, which most recently garnered acclaim in Art Forum and invitations to participate in a number of prominent exhibitions as a collective.

Alexander Eckblad founded a Eugene-based company that is developing a insulation material called Cellulose Nanofiber. Eckblad’s Black Lodge Design Lab recently won the inaugural Oregon BEST Red List Design Challenge and was recently accepted to the Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network (RAIN), an Oregon consortium of government, higher education, and the business community founded by the Governor and Oregon State Legislative Assembly to advance the formation of high-growth innovative startup companies. Eckblad’s project received a grant from National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance.

Ugene is a cooperative design and manufacturing initiative being developed by four faculty members in Product Design, Art, and Architecture. The immediate goal of Ugene is to make high-quality goods that respond to regional need, partner with local industry, and achieve learning outcomes through cooperative making while rivaling the quality and cost of goods currently available in the global market. The Ugene collective was awarded an endowed experimental course in winter 2014 during which faculty and students developed prototypes for commercial tableware. The longterm objective of Ugene is to export this brand to other institutions in order to develop a consortium of national and international partners. This network will share information and resources as a cooperative umbrella group that manufactures commercial ware while supporting more speculative research through production and discourse.

The internationally acclaimed Sustainable Cities Initiative (SCI) is a cross-disciplinary organization at the University of Oregon that promotes education, service, public outreach and research on the design and development of sustainable cities. SCI’s work addresses sustainability issues from the regional level down to the building. SCI focuses on sustainability based research and teaching opportunities, shares this expertise with scholars, policymakers, community leaders, and project partners, and develops academic courses, professional training, and certification. SCI functions as a cross-disciplinary hub of activity, in part due to its award winning, cross-disciplinary pedagogical mode and in part due to cross-disciplinary research and training work. SCI’s focus is on sustainable urbanism, which squarely addresses the planning, design, policy, and economics of cities with an explicit interest in linking rigorous research with policy change and professional implementation. As a national leader in research connecting sustainable city form with active transportation, ecological services, and healthy residents, SCI engages and informs faculty, students, and practitioners from multiple disciplines in timely and significant issues. SCI works across all university institutional functions, including education through its internationally recognized Sustainable City Year Program (SCYP), applied research through more than $1,000,000 in externally funded research over the last four years, service to Oregon communities, reforming higher education nationally through nationalization of SCYP, policy engagement through submission of Congressional testimony, and international professional training in China and Africa. SCI’s work connects student passion, faculty experience, and community needs to produce innovative, tangible solutions for the creation of a sustainable society. 

Green Product Design Network (GPDN) integrates a broad set of disciplines, including green chemistry, product design, business models and advertising to invent sustainable products.