Although it is used by a wide range of classes during the academic day, the Chiang-Elghanayan Center’s maker space is open to the entire Blair community for use in the afternoons, evenings and on weekends. Student projects run the gamut from simple T-shirts produced by the dye sublimation system to complex design projects that begin on a computer and come to life using 3D printers, the laser engraving system or the vinyl cutter.
To help students become more comfortable using the tools in this laboratory/workshop and assist them in organizing and executing their projects, a group of student volunteers rotates in working in the maker space, with one or two students “on duty” during one evening study hall per week. At that time, Blair’s maker space technicians guide their peers, offering suggestions and answering questions.
Being a maker space technician is a leadership role that not only helps students develop a “maker” mindset and boost creativity, but it also provides “on-the-job training” that makes coursework and extracurricular pursuits tackled in the space much easier and more efficient, while also building key leadership competencies, explained computer science teacher and maker space director Mike Garrant.
“The experience of coaching other students and learning by doing advances our students’ making and interpersonal skills, at Blair and beyond,” he said. “Guiding others in work will teach them to be empathetic toward someone in need and will test their patience. That’s why we encourage our technicians to ‘teach someone to fish’ and not complete their project for them.”
In addition to working on their own projects and helping others, the maker space technicians maintain a clean, safe and productive environment. No experience is necessary to take on the job, and Mr. Garrant and his wife, Vanessa, are always on hand to offer assistance or another point of view.
“One of the best parts about being a maker space technician is knowing more about the space than almost anybody else on campus,” said Robert Rucki ’20. “The coolest thing I’ve learned by far was how to build a 3D printer. Putting it together helped me to learn how these printers work inside and out, while also teaching me more about the tools around the room.”
Robert is not alone in feeling that the maker space has opened his eyes to the fact that he likes to do hands-on, technical things. “The maker space has enhanced my Blair learning experience because it is learning by doing,” said Thomas Engel ’20, who worked with Robert on the 3D printer. “We learned all kinds of components and, later, will be able to teach other maker space technicians how to use them and explain what they have to do to solve printer problems. The maker space enhanced our ability to look for other solutions and ways to make something work.”
Specific technologies aside, helping other students is just plain fun. “I remember how exciting it was to learn to use the machines and design programs, and it’s really rewarding to be able to share that experience with other students,” added Ugochi Amadi ’19. “At home, I could not even dream of being able to do the things I can do in the maker space. I design something on the computer and see it come to life in a matter of hours. It has broadened my view of what I am capable of creating.”
Introducing other students to the simplicity of making also appeals to Erica Choi ’19, who has embraced the freedom of the space. “I’ve urged a lot of my friends who think maker space projects are too hard or complicated to consider the possibility of making something, even if it is just a simple project,” she said. “The maker space has enhanced my experience because of its vast possibilities. I love that there aren’t a lot of restrictions in terms of what we make or why we make, which allows me to connect multiple aspects of my life to what I can create in the Chiang Center.”