Our university defines ‘maker culture’ as an environment where community members are encouraged and empowered to gain the tools, support and experiences needed to bring their ideas to reality. A key point of that culture is to understand what the world might need. Our institution sees maker culture as being strongly aligned with our mission: Inspired by Catholic intellectual tradition, the University of St. Thomas educates students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good.
At the University of St. Thomas, “Maker Culture” starts with access and is fostered by confidence. To serve the maker needs of our students, we make our labs and fab facilities open for both assignments and personal projects. It is not uncommon to see a student working in our labs on something that has nothing to do with his or her “school work.” But you can’t promote such a culture without building understanding of the “maker tools” into the curriculum. For example, Mechanical Engineering students at St. Thomas can’t graduate without having run a mill or a lathe.
Success as a Maker is a combination of hands-on-skills with tools, awareness of what is possible, knowing what society needs, and confidence that the mixture of creativity and analysis will lead to something that has never been done. At the University of St Thomas, we cultivate the tender balance of strong analytical tools, an understanding of humanity, and what is possible when these two dimensions are brought together to solve our world’s greatest problems.
In the School of Engineering, our showcase effort is our Senior Design Clinic which directly engages with engineers at companies in the region from Mayo Clinic to 3M to Stratasys on delivering prototype solutions to pressing problems that they face. The University of St. Thomas requires no IP sharing in the Clinic to ensure that companies come with there most impactful problems.
Our introduction to Engineering Design and Graphics class, open to any student in the university, introduces a combination of design thinking, process and tools. Students then apply their new skills to a real world challenge with a non-profit organization partner.
Additionally, we offer courses and workshops for PK-12 educators in which they are empowered to bring hands-on integrated STEM to their students.
The wonderful dimension to St. Thomas is the ratio of engineering and business students in our university. Over 50% of the students at the University of St. Thomas are majoring in either business or engineering. The blend is fantastic… and includes the Fowler Business Challenge which each year draws from teams across the campus to develop a business plan and prototypes for review. The challenge regularly receives Business/Engineering teams with really exciting ideas. In fact, the 2014 Superbowl half time show featured a commercial product drum light kit in the Red Hot Chili Peppers performance which was designed by an engineering student and his business major roommate who began collaborating in the Fowler Business Challenge.
Open access is the key to the Maker Culture. Our labs and maker facilities include 3D printing, sheet metal, wood shop, and a complete shop facility. That we not only train our students to be confident with… but we also trust them to use responsibly.
The most public engagement that we support is the STEPS Camp for Girls. This is a week-long overnight campus experience, where 12 year old girls from the Twin Cities area are deeply immersed in the concepts of engineering, make, and fun. The camp has been running for 15 years and has supported more than 3,000 girls in “no recipe” making and exploration of science and engineering. The University closely works with our corporate foundations to make the camp free for all and heavily promoted to the underrepresented groups in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
UST students lead workshops on topics such as e-textiles, creative circuits, and food+engineering at local schools, including ones for Deaf children and pregnant/parenting teenagers.
The University regularly partners with the local libraries, museums, and school robotics teams in advancing their work and needs.
Maker Culture is a “do” culture. And our broadest impact in the School of Engineering is promoting and attracting students to the humanity, creativity, and “do” aspects of our work that make the Maker Culture vital to society. By promoting the blend of humanity, creativity, and “do”, we are making fields such as engineering more approachable to a broader audience of students.
I am not sure that we have developed “radical” innovations… but we have certainly catalyzed several start ups… and have made great strides in availing ourselves to a community as a technical and “make” resource which is beginning to make a difference in our region of the country.
Squishy Circuits, a method of using homemade play dough to build working circuits, were developed by one of our faculty members and her research students. This method is now used in homes, schools, and museums around the world.