Sears Think Box

Insights from ISAM 2017

I recently returned from the second annual International Symposium on Academic Makerspaces, hosted by the Think[box] at Case Western Reserve University. A strong theme of the conference was how to broaden the appeal of makerspaces beyond engineering departments. It became apparent that┬ámany colleges and universities continue to struggle to attract women to the STEM fields and especially to engineering departments. Being a historically women’s college, Mount Holyoke has not faced this struggle in the same way. Combining our strength in STEM programs with an interdisciplinary makerspace, we seem to be ahead of the curve in attracting students who have not been well represented in the fields of engineering and innovation in the past.

Nick at ISAM 2017 Poster SessionI had the privilege of co-authoring a paper and poster that Kathy Aidala ably presented, Empowering the Liberal Arts Student: Tech for All (Aidala et al. 2017). In the paper, we describe helping students feel comfortable using tools and technology, creating a welcoming environment in the Makerspace, and reaching beyond traditionally tech-heavy disciplines to engage a wide range of students.

Across the board, I was struck by the positive role that libraries have to play in academic makerspaces. On a practical level, they have long experience with circulating media and equipment, a service that has been leveraged by MIT among others. More importantly, reference librarians and instructional technologists can help make connections beyond science and engineering departments, serving as the connective tissue on campus to a broad range of disciplines, from theater to film studies. I’ve seen this in my own work as a Library/IT person embedded in a makerspace, and I expect we’ll see similar roles evolving at other institutions as the idea of a makerspace on campus matures.

Egyptian Pendant, 1st millenium BCEFinally, I found time to visit the Cleveland Museum of Art, with their excellent collection of arms and armor, and other examples of “making.” One of my favorite pieces to see was a gold and turquoise pendant from Egypt, which incorporates a hinge! While one of the earliest written references to a hinge is about Solomon’s Temple,* they are certainly an ancient technology. This one dates to perhaps the 11th century BCE, and hints at how the hinge might have evolved from fine metalwork to larger and more functional applications.

* King Solomon’s temple had “…hinges of gold, both for the doors of the inner house, the most holy place, and for the doors of the house, to wit, of the temple.” -1 Kings 7:50, King James version