For the past year or so, makerspaces have been a huge part of my life. I was recently part of a student organization called The Hive and our job was to operate a three-floor makerspace inside the Interdisciplinary Design Commons building at Georgia Tech. It was a big project funded by sponsors, but it allowed me to see the benefits of having such a space on a college campus.

Makerspaces are the epitome of the phrase “learning by doing.” For those of you not familiar with makerspaces, a makerspace is a collaborative work space that provides people with various types of equipment necessary to learn and build projects. Equipment varies greatly among makerspaces, but in general they should include 3D printers, laser cutters, and wood/metal working equipment. Many will also include soldering irons, electrical wiring tools, and perhaps even oscilloscopes, but it really depends on the space’s budget and their focus. To get my point across though, let me focus on makerspaces for education.

Why it matters

As you can imagine, the fact that you get to use the equipment and tools inside the makerspace is already a wealth of knowledge and experience just waiting to be tapped into. No longer do you need to be constrained to reading textbooks and watching online tutorials to learn. You can go inside these makerspaces and get hands-on experience yourself. On top of that, a lot of makerspaces actually provide certain materials like wood and basic electronic components for free. So not only are you not constrained on equipment, but you even get some materials for free as well! Pretty good deal if you ask me.

But one of the most important components I discovered is the culture a makerspace cultivates. The culture is determined by the community and how the community interacts with each other and new members. For example, if students consistently abuse free materials and look down on new members, nobody will feel comfortable and your culture quickly becomes very toxic. On the other hand, if you teach students to be respectful to everyone, regardless of experience, and provide free materials for educational purposes, students will have a better experience using the space. Granted my examples are very simple, but the fundamental principle still holds and is extremely important when putting a makerspace on a college campus. In some ways, you can almost think of the culture as the glue that connects people to the makerspace. The makerspace may attract students initially, but the culture is why people stay.

Check one out yourself!

With that being said, not every college has the funds to build elaborate makerspaces. I’m personally very grateful to Georgia Tech providing the students with a plethora of these spaces. In addition, many makerspaces outside of college require a membership fee (or have some other conditions) and can be easy to miss unless you are explicitly looking for one.

But while there are some complications with makerspace accessibility, I truly believe that this is a fantastic step in the right direction. Simply having the freedom and space to create whatever you want is fun and gives you a chance to grow. I’ve built my own share of small projects (mainly consisting of microcontrollers and pretty lights) and it really is an engineers playground.

When you get the chance to go to one, make sure to talk with the people who work/volunteer there. They’re the ones who represent the space and will most likely be more than happy to help you out.