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

Maker culture at WPI is defined by an intellectual curiosity, a passion to master interdisciplinary skills, and the tenacity to follow through to the end. WPI makers come from a variety of backgrounds with different experiences and have the goal to acquire and refine skills to encourage positive change around the world. The WPI maker culture is a melting pot of disciplines and the culture flourishes at this intersection of various fields. WPI makers are curious, collaborative, and creative in pursuing solutions to hard problems with societal impact. 

How does your institution foster maker culture?

WPI’s motto Lehr and Kunst (Theory and Practice) has the right ingredients to foster the maker culture since it founding 150 years ago. The roots of WPI’s maker culture can be found by visiting Washburn Shops on our campus. Washburn Shops, the oldest building in the nation used continuously for engineering education, now houses a modern machine shop open to trained students fro 24/7, is the hub for WPI makers. In addition to a variety of rapid prototyping equipment (3D printing, laser cutting), WPI Haas Technical Education Center, provides a unique and accessible facility for WPI makers.

The WPI Plan embraces the project based learning, and as a result, making has been embedded into WPI culture for more than 40 years. The impact of this making culture can also be found at WPI’s project centers spread globally from Kenya to Australia to Costa Rica.   

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

In 1970, the WPI Plan replaced the traditional rigidly-prescribed curriculum — typical of conventional engineering education — with a flexible, exciting, and academically challenging program aimed at helping students to learn how to learn. The Plan continues the "Two Tower" tradition by synthesizing classroom experience in projects that solve real world problems. The WPI project program prepares graduates for their future professional lives by helping them learn how to identify, investigate and report on open-ended problems. In 2015, the WPI President encouraged a campus-wide initiative to add “Impact” to the WPI motto of “Theory and Practice”.

WPI truly values interdisciplinary engineering and science education. As an example, WPI introduced the Nation’s first undergraduate program in Robotics Engineering. The learning experience is centered around the interdisciplinary core curriculum called Unified Robotics. The outcomes of the program include projects that realize innovative robots in support of humans and exemplify how WPI fosters maker culture.

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

Project work is at the heart of the WPI Plan and three capstone projects define the project experience for all WPI students. This curriculum, first approved by the faculty in 1970, establishes a balance between qualification in the student’s major, qualification in the humanities or arts, and qualification in the zone between technology and society, where most real-world problems reside. Project-based learning is an integral part of the educational experience for all students under the WPI Plan and interdisciplinary projects provide an excellent opportunity for implementing this instructional approach by incorporating open-ended projects with detailed timelines and milestones.

The senior capstone design experience is called the Major Qualifying Project (MQP) at WPI. This is a professional-level project, requiring a quarter of the senior year (9 credits), which establishes qualification in the student’s major discipline. Many of these projects are performed in conjunction with industrial sponsors, off-campus research organizations, or ongoing faculty interests. A campus-wide Project Presentation Day is held each April, during which MQP teams make formal public presentations and demonstrations of their work to faculty, students, project sponsors, and visitors. The Project Presentation Day in recent years has become WPI’s Maker Faire.

WPI believes that in order to become the best engineers and scientists they can be, students should have a broad understanding of the cultural and social contexts of those fields, and thus be more effective and socially responsible practitioners and citizens. That’s the intent of the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), a nine-credit-hour interdisciplinary requirement involving applied research that connects science or technology with social issues and human needs. The IQP is not organized as a course, nor is it related to the major. Instead, small teams of students work under the guidance of faculty members from all disciplines to conduct research, using social science methods, directed at a specific problem or need. Students deliver findings and recommendations through formal reports and oral presentations to project sponsors (often nonprofit, municipal, or government agencies) and faculty advisors. 

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

In addition to the formal project based curriculum, WPI offers students several informal opportunities to be involved in fostering a maker culture. The WPI CollabLab is a student maker organization which administers a member-operated lab space and provides a collaborative community with the goal of fostering and facilitating extracurricular student projects at WPI. Students in the CollabLab have access to the tools, parts, knowledge, inspiration, and assistance necessary to cultivate their own out-of-class projects.

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

With 13 distinct Engineering programs, WPI is host to virtually nonstop maker activities in these disciplines. And they are being conducted in facilities and labs that continue to evolve continuously. The following are examples of maker spaces at WPI.

The Hass Technical Center for Computer-controlled Machining at WPI supports teaching and research on computer-controlled machining, as well as the fabrication of equipment for projects and research. A lathe with live tooling, as well as smaller lathes and mills and including two vertical machining centers, are available to accommodate a wide variety of applications.The mission of the CNC labs is to support the mission of WPI, by creating, discovering, and conveying knowledge at the frontiers of inquiry in CNC machining and education, as well as linking that new knowledge to applications help students achieve self sufficiency in the use of CNC tools and technologies, so they can conceive, design, and create their own CNC machined parts for their projects.

The 1600 sq. ft. state-of-the-art Higgins Design studio, part of the Keck Design Center at WPI, serves as both an innovative classroom and a premier workspace centered on computer-aided design, simulation, and visualization. With a focus on design technologies and collaboration, the studio is used for lectures and labs in mechanical design and manufacturing, as well as training sessions in Scientific and Engineering Software Applications (SESA). When not in use, the studio is available for student projects, coursework and faculty research. It is equipped with high-end workstations running software for mechanical design including parametric solid modeling, structural, thermal, fluid and dynamic analysis, and general purpose applications. The Design Studio is built to facilitate student collaboration and teamwork. WPI has two Rapid Prototyping machines available for students, faculty, and staff: Dimension SST 1200es and Objet260 Connex, located in Higgins Laboratory 232. The machines are meant to be used for parts that cannot be easily purchased or produced using other on-campus resources such as the machine shop.

WPI’s @Home testbed consists of a studio apartment with approximately 400 sq. ft. of space hosted by the WPI’s Healthcare Delivery Institute. Communications capabilities are provided by the combination of Ubiquiti Networks products: a UniFi AP-AC, Edge Router, and ToughSwitch. The 3x3 MIMO access point accommodates 450 Mbps at 2.4 Ghz and 1300 Mbps at 5.8 Ghz. The access point, router, and switch provide flexibility to implement VLANs, QoS, multiple SSIDs, custom routing and triggering providing scalability as more devices are added to the smart environment. Within this testbed, we enable design teams to rapidly prototype assistive robotics technologies by following a model-based design methodology to design, model, simulate, and implement a unique smart sensor, actuator or controller node to create a smart living environment. The smart environment is composed of proximity sensors, pressure sensors, motion detection sensors for activity monitoring, actuator modules for interacting with doors, windows, lights, and electronic devices, human-interfaces as personal assistants, and cameras for safety (fall-detection).

WPI’s Medical Cyber-Physical System Testbed is a small Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) consisting of a tent, cots, buckets, networking equipment, several sensors including motion detectors, temperature sensors, RGB-D sensors, cameras, and also a teleoperated robots. This ETU testbed allows WPI makers to rapidly prototype and test various solutions for advanced response to epidemics such as Ebola. Makers not only design and realize their innovations in the testbed but also get a chance to collaborate with researchers and practitioners from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, to understand the specific challenges of working in infrastructure-degraded environments and critically analyze potential technological solutions.

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

WPI has been very active in national and international design and making competitions, including the Intel Cornell Cup, NASA Centennial Challenges, ASME and IEEE Design Competitions. Student teams also participate in regional and national Maker Faires. Furthermore, WPI hosts TouchTomorrow annually. TouchTomorrow is a free and interactive festival celebrating space, science, technology and robots. The festival, since 2012, is composed of hands-on exhibits and activities focused on our scientific and technological future. Greater Worcester community gets a chance to see the work of WPI makers at TouchTomorrow exhibits.

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

The STEM Education Center at WPI is dedicated to supporting and preparing K-12 educators and administrators. This two-year-old center builds on a longstanding history of WPI that has helped address a critical shortage of educators qualified to teach math and science – a gap that could leave the United States at a competitive economic disadvantage. President Barack Obama has set a goal of training more than 100,000 new math and science teachers over the next decade through his "Educate to Innovate" campaign. The STEM Education Center at WPI focuses on three pillars, all of which are aimed at supporting and preparing teachers in STEM fields: Licensure and Degrees, Professional Development, and Innovation in Teaching.

The Massachusetts Academy for Mathematics and Science enrolls about 100 academically accelerated 11th and 12th graders annually, emphasizing math and science within a comprehensive, project-based academic program. Mass Academy allows participating seniors the ability to complete a full year of college, enrolling in classes at WPI, making it the only public school in the state whose students attend a private university full-time.

WPI offers students to get give back to the community by getting involved with the RoboKids program where students work with children ages 7-12 from Worcester's Friendly House. We seek to teach them an appreciation of STEM, build their personal skills, and inspire them to do well by running hands-on STEM-based activities.

Camp Reach is one of several WPI K-12 programs aimed at enhancing math and science education for girls. Each summer for the past 16 years, 30 seventh-grade girls from Massachusetts have participated in the two-week residential program including hands-on workshops, a design project for a community organization, field trips, recreational activities, and follow-up programs during the academic year. President Obama named Camp Reach as a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring in 2011.

ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp welcomes about 50 underrepresented sixth, seventh and eighth grade students from Bay State middle schools to WPI every summer to partake in a hands-on STEM camp. Thanks to the vision and generosity of veteran astronaut Dr. Bernard A. Harris, Jr. and ExxonMobil, the program is free of charge to campers and is the largest of its kind in the United States. Campers work with WPI faculty, secondary school teachers, and ExxonMobil engineers on projects that focus on technology, natural science, engineering, and mathematics, and they attend classes that include problem solving, research, and critical thinking and communications skills incorporated with the sciences, engineering, technology, design concepts, and field excursions.

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

Maker culture combined with project-based learning focus at WPI, especially among engineering students, has been highly motivating for WPI students to develop novel systems and tools to address problems with societal impact such as assistive technologies, sustainability, and health care delivery. 

What are the success stories relating to your maker culture?

WPI makers received the following recognition: First Place at NASA/National Institute of Aerospace Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Exploration Robo-ops Competition in 2011 and 2012, Rookie-of-the-Year Award at the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition organized by DoD-TARDEC in 2010, Honorable Mention, Second Place, First Place, and Grand Prize at the Intel Cornell Cup in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 respectively. Moreover, our projects have been presented present at the Innovation on the Edge: Accelerating Solutions in the Fight Against Ebola event hosted by OSTP and USAID at the White House in 2015, 2015 Global City Teams Challenge organized by NIST and US Ignite, and 2014 SmartAmerica Challenge organized by the Presidential Innovation Fellows.