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How to Make Your Makerspace 100% Free of Charge for Students

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Contents

Background

Nathan UIF Profile.JPG
Nathan LaWarre is a University Innovation Fellow and an undergrad at Western Michigan University. He is majoring in electrical engineering with a minor in environmental studies and sustainability. He has many interests including but not limited to experimenting with his Arduino, tackling difficult problems, and working with solar panels.  He is on the leadership board of The Innovation Club at his school. Nathan draws inspiration and motivation for leadership from the previous works of the Innovation Club as well as the previous fellows from the University Innovation Fellows at his school.

Here is the success story of how his Innovation Club managed to establish a Makerspace at his campus free of charge for students, from forming a team of few Engineering students, finding a space, and raising the funds.

 

Introduction

This article will discuss the fundamentals of how to develop a Makerspace that is completely free for students, inspired by the success experienced by Nathan Lawarre at Western Michigan University, whose Makerspace was the first of its kind at his University.  Then, this article will discuss some the challenges and strategies to overcome them, so that you can effectively influence your campus.

 

Need and Goal

The need to have a Makerspace is often driven by a the desire to create an innovative and entrepreneurial culture.  Makerspaces foster creative problem solving, encourage engagement, and promote an agile entrepreneurial mindset.  They offer the opportunity for hands-on learning with topics students are interested in.  This opens the door for cultivating passion and inspiring truly innovative solutions.  Cost can be a limiting factor for many students.  Through making the Makerspace on your campus free to students, the space becomes more accessible to a wider range of students, which improves the community and the ideas created there.

  • Encourage innovation among students
  • Enhance thinking ability
  • Transform student ideas into products
  • Generate startups at school level
  • Promote hands-on learning
  • Support creative problem solving
  • Engage students within the program
  • Support and implement innovation


How to get it started?

Politics/Culture

One of the most important aspects of creating a Makerspace, or implementing any new idea on your campus, is being aware of the culture and different politics that could impact what you are developing.  As each campus is different, the politics and culture of your campus will shape how you approach and tackle any given problem.  

The best way to use these to your advantage is to do research about both what is going on around your campus and about the people who are integrally involved in the projects and departments who can help you.  This way, when you are asking for help from people around your university, you can tailor your pitch to touch on things you know they are interested and invested in.  The context in which you pitch your idea for the free Makerspace and how you frame it has a significant impact on how your audience perceives and reacts to it.

The Pitch

The pitch is a critical part in the process of making a free Makerspace.  As was discussed above, it is critical to understand who your audience is and how to best convey the value that the Makerspace will provide to students.  

When designing the pitch, consider what data will be most compelling.  Not only does it provide the audience something to hold onto, it impresses on them that work has been put into this proposal.  Data points that may be useful include: usage of existing labs on campus, interest in the project, number of people actively working towards this goal, amount of money needed, and what has already been done to reach this goal.

Additionally, it is paramount to pitch to the “right” people.  In this case, the “right” person is going to be anyone you can talk to, as the best allies and partnerships can result from seemingly unimportant conversations.

Funding

Although the Makerspace you are creating is free to students, running the Makerspace costs money.  Ensuring that the space is available and that there are materials and equipment for students to use not only requires a large amount of work but also requires monetary support.  In order to keep the space free for students, you need to be persistent in looking for funding.  Some good places to start are: club funding, local sponsors, and donations.  

It pays to be creative to when attracting both sponsors and donations.  For example, the Makerspace developed at Western Michigan University uses an incentivized tiered donation system where the sponsors get a different size of sticker for donations within the tiers they developed.  These stickers decorate the walls of the Makerspace while promoting the businesses. Local and national businesses love advertising at local universities because it drives businesses through target audiences found at them. Offering wall space or places on flyers or advertisements can go a long way for businesses who are looking to sponsor.

Promotion

To get students to come to your Makerspace, you must develop a marketing campaign. The goal of this campaign should be to get students as interested in and excited about your space as possible. Creating branded posters and business cards for your Makerspace is a great start. Place your posters all around campus, making sure you have permission to do so. Try to place posters in every college, school, and building within your university to maximize the amount of students you reach with your marketing and to ensure students from all majors and disciplines know about and feel welcome to use your Makerspace. Holding events at your Makerspace where there is free food involved is a great way to get people through the door. College students love free food! 

  • Understand your campus culture
  • Ask, and be persistent!
  • Ensure rapid prototyping tools are available
  • Publicize your Makerspace to a diverse audience
  • Fundraise and consider offering rewards

Management

Your Makerspace will need to be monitored and managed when students are using it, especially if there is valuable equipment and materials in it. Depending on the specific circumstances of your space, you may need to find student volunteers in order to do so. The key to effectively managing your space is organization. Create a centralized place to schedule who will monitor the Makerspace at what time. This can be anything from a shared spreadsheet to a web tool such as WhenIsGood. Find what works best for your team. Schedule at least two people to manage the Makerspace at any given time, so that even if a volunteer has a last minute conflict, there will always be someone to keep the space open.

 

Take-aways

While Makerspaces can be difficult to start and even harder to offer free of cost to students, the benefits are well worth the struggle. Makerspaces offer students a place for hands-on learning in an environment that fosters creativity and innovation.  The first attempt likely won’t be perfect.  As Nathan informed our team in the interview, there is always room to iterate.Hopefully, with this Wiki article, this process is a bit less daunting.

Nathan mentioned in throughout his interview and during his closing statements that he is constantly driving to improve his makerspace. The leadership board for the Innovation Club is currently in the process of creating new plans for the makerspace at Western Michigan University. 



Written by Lisa Feiden, Mackenzie Kinzel, Uday Sai Tyada, Abigail Graese, Nagamani Ravula, Maxwell Newberry

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