2017-09-01 / Schools

Makerspaces make landing on college campuses

By Hector Gonzalez

COPY THAT—High-tech equipment, such as 3-D printers, will be part of the makerspaces coming to Moorpark College. Plans are to open the new digital fabrication labs sometime in the spring. COPY THAT—High-tech equipment, such as 3-D printers, will be part of the makerspaces coming to Moorpark College. Plans are to open the new digital fabrication labs sometime in the spring. In a major shift sure to challenge stereotypes of colleges as quiet halls of study, California is investing millions to transform campuses into work centers where teams of students can get their hands dirty building things.

Welcome to the new age of makerspaces.

At Moorpark College, officials are using a $250,000 state grant to build several small makerspace workshops.

When completed over the next year or so, the new digital fabrication labs will ignite a wave of entrepreneurial spirit across the 50-year-old campus, predicted Mary Rees, dean of math and physical sciences, who is heading up the effort.

“It’s going to create a whole new kind of mindset of learning by visualization,” she said.

First opened in old converted warehouses and other unused places, makerspaces are usually high-tech workshops with 3-D printers, laser cutters, computer-aided design software and other state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. For a monthly fee, ordinary people with ideas for inventions and products can access the newest tools of modern production.

Started in 2006 originally as a series of “maker fairs,” makerspaces have since spread to libraries and, most recently, to schools.

Makerspaces allow teachers to break out of the classroom lecture routine. Students usually work in teams to design and build projects that tie in to science, technology, engineering and math, known by the acronym STEM. Along with those four subjects, educators often add the arts, creating yet another acronym: STEAM.

In its largest investment in makerspaces so far, California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office awarded $17 million, which went to Moorpark College and 23 other campuses around the state, to create a network of the workshops at the colleges.

Thirty-five colleges applied for the funds in 2016, but only 24 received the two-year grants that were handed out last month, spokesperson Paul Feist said.

At Moorpark College, instead of opening a single makerspace for the whole campus, Rees said, officials will create smaller “satellite” makerspaces outfitted with tools specific to different departments. A makerspace in the applied arts building, for example, will have sewing machines, she said.

“Rather than new tech equipment, which we will also have, it’s also more of the kind of equipment people might not have access to otherwise but still need in the building of something,” she said.

As part of the program, the community college system will also pay for 800 student internships, allowing students to learn skills in makerspaces that will help them land jobs and start careers in science, technology, engineering, art and math, Feist said in a news release.

“These 24 colleges have demonstrated their commitment to establishing makerspaces, placing students in internships, developing curriculum that prepares students with 21st century skills and participating in a statewide network of college makerspaces that are tailored to meet the needs of regional economies,” said Van Ton-Quinlivan, vice chancellor of California Community College’s workforce and economic development division.

Dozens of new makerspaces will be opened up to community college students and also to nonstudents like seniors and members of the workforce since a main goal of the program is to reach out to employers and invite them to send their workers to campus makerspaces to boost their job skills, Feist said.

One reason community colleges launched the makerspace initiative in October, Feist said, was to help ease the state’s demand for so-called middle-skilled workers, those in need of training beyond high school but not necessarily a four-year degree.

Middle-skill jobs make up the largest chunk of the U.S. labor market, accounting for 53 percent of all employment in the nation. From now through 2024, 41 percent of U.S. job openings will be for middle-skilled workers, according to the National Skills Coalition.

It’s the same picture in California, where middle-skill jobs account for 50 percent of the labor market, “but only 39 percent of the state’s workers are trained to the middle-skill level,” the coalition’s website said.

California’s community colleges, which enrolled about 2.1 million students last year, are in a unique position to help close the middle-skills gap, said Dale Dougherty, chair of the community college’s makerspace initiative.

“ Makerspaces are about learning and the intersections of all disciplines and the kinds of experiences that we can give students. In a makerspace, students learn not to live within comfortable boundaries but to take creative risk and try things,” Dougherty said.

Moorpark College officials are eager to get started on the project, Rees said. Already, officials are “jumping right in and buying the equipment,” she said.

Plans are to open the new workshops for student use by spring.

Officials are also developing a separate plan to allow non-students and people from the community to use the workshops for a fee, which is still to be determined, she said.

“When you get liked-minded people together who like to work with their hands, the tinkerers and inventors of the world, amazing things happen,” Rees said.

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