Makerworks – A Haven for Students


3dprintshot-906x489“A Makerspace for students, by students”, is very fitting for this project, an all all-access Department of Mechanical Engineering (MechE) makerspace from MIT. This community space offers ways to make as well as ways to measure protoypes and anything else a student may need. The MakerWorks project was first set up by a group of students with the help of Martin Culpepper, a Professor and unofficial MechE “maker czar”, as well as Professor Anette Peko Hosoi, MechE’s Associate Department Head for Education. The students have also:

  • Recruited mentors
  • Identified equipment requirements
  • Developed safety procedures
  • Solicited funding
  • Managed staffing
  • Designed community events
  • and much more

It was said that the process of developing the shop was quite a learning experience.

The people

Well known for its commitment to hands-on learning, MIT has hosted several projects such as hackathons, Hyperloop, Maker Faires and Robot Competitions. They make sure to express their interest in making, building and doing.

“At MIT we celebrate the artist, the scholar, and the smith,” says Culpepper, who oversees Project Manus, MIT’s effort to upgrade makerspaces and foster maker communities on campus.

The Institute is home to many makerspaces with students in mind, such as the MIT Edgerton Center, the MIT Hobby Shop, and Beaver Works, and the collection of makerspaces take up 130,000 square feet.

The project was started by three students who had graduated who wanted an all-access, student run space at MIT. The group of three soon became a group of eight, and grew more interest as time went on. The founders wanted to create a place where hobby and research machining didn’t interfere with classwork. before the makerspaces existed, this non-classwork machining took place in various labs around the campus. By giving students specific places to work, undergrads and graduate students can make the most of the skills and experience that other students have.

The MakerWorks team is currently made up of 35 graduate students, called mentors. These mentors staff and administer the shop. The space has almost 600 total users, all of whom have attended Maker Mondays, a required introductory session that trains newcomers on policies and basic tools. Those 600 users are split approximately 50/50 between undergraduates and graduates. Many graduate students then utilize the space to quickly prototype parts for their research, and undergrads use it for research needs as well.

The engineering

While students are encouraged to use the space to make personal creations, for example, when a team of mentors extensively used MakerWorks to build “Sawblaze,” a bot that competed on the recent reboot of ABC’s “Battlebots”, the shop’s founders also encourage more than making for its own sake.

“We want MakerWorks not only to be a makerspace but also to be known as a place for good engineering,” says Raghav Aggarwal SM ’16, a member of the MakerWorks administrative team. “That’s why the graduate student mentors are a great resource. They provide a very diverse body of knowledge and experience.”

“It’s important to give students a place to learn how to build well and develop better building practices,” says PhD candidate Dan Dorsch ’12, SM ’15, one of MakerWorks’ co-founders. “Having both analytical skills and a strong understanding of how products are designed and manufactured empowers engineers.”

The tools

This desire to enable great engineering also sparked Culpepper, an early user of the space, to recommend adding a measurement and validation section to the shop.

“MakerWorks is one of the first makerspaces at MIT to offer prediction tools and the ability to plan the engineering process through the combination of design software, rapid prototyping, and validation tools,” says Dorsch. “It intentionally gives the space a significant engineering focus rather than offering something more similar to a hacker space.”

MakerWorks also houses 12 fundamental machines,  including a mill, a lathe, a water-jet, a laser cutter, a router, a 3-D printer, a bandsaw, a drill press, and more as well as there being multiples of some of these machines. Each of the 35 mentors works one two-hour shift per week and is required to teach at least one machine training session per week. They are also responsible for maintaining their appointed machine and keeping the area clean.

The education

Through interaction with the space’s users, the mentors often a lot whilst on the job. They are exposed to so many engineering and making projects they wouldn’t otherwise see, and are therefore learning from each other as well.

“People say that teaching is the best way to learn, and I think this is a perfect example,” says Dorsch.

Expanding MakerWorks’ educational opportunities even further, Culpepper has created a harmonious relationship with the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. The Trust Center, which provided funding for the development of MakerWorks, also created ProtoWorks too, which is a satellite space for Sloan School of Management students to quickly prototype products that are part of their own entrepreneurial projects and startups.

Together the two spaces have built a community of engineers and entrepreneurs who benefit from each other’s knowledge in their respective fields: MechE students can brainstorm and bounce business ideas off their fellow management classmates, and Sloan students are able to make the most of the making skills of fellow engineers to physically implement their product ideas.

“Part of the goal in building community is getting exposure to other people’s projects. This inspiration can lead to novel personal or research projects,” says Dorsch.

Culpepper adds, “The best way to understand how a physical system works is to build it. I’m very excited that we’ve been able to give both MechE and Sloan School students another place to do that — for student mentors through teaching and for users through practice.”


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