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How to advocate for expanded access to engineering labs as on-campus 'maker space'

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  (Fast forward to 1:52 to hear the overview)

Contents

Introduction

Makerspace, invention studio or hacker workbench. There are many different names for lab space that college students are advocating for to build projects in for clubs and organizations. Having a lab space of their own avoids the many obstacles that students are running into at their universities, such as hours of operation or denial of access due to their major. Here you will learn steps that students have taken to gain access to labs on and off campus.

Must be a Need

If you or your organization is going to advocate for more lab access, then you need to express a need for it. You should ask yourself, what projects are we currently working on and how is limited lab access hindering those projects? Also, what projects would your organization like to work on, but are prevented from because of lack of access? You want to be able to prove to others that students want this and will benefit from it. By reviewing what projects you are working on and future projects you want to work on, you will be able to build a detailed list of the type of equipment you would like to have access to. Delegate some or all of the members in your organization to adamantly be involved in finding lab space/access. With dedicated students in your organization, anything is possible.

Georgia Tech Innovation Studio is an excellent example of how students obtained lab access on campus and what the benefits have been.

Who is a Decision Maker?

Decision makers are the faculty, advisors and managers that have a substantial impact on your university campus. They can help you gain access to the labs you need or give you the resources to delegate space on campus for your own lab. Decision makers are the ones who, well, make the decisions on your campus. Finding the right people to help your movement can be difficult.

Find Space on Campus

Most universities have various types of labs with all the equipment you would possibly need to complete any kind of project. The problem is that those labs are generally only open to specific majors and are not open 24/7. Here are some examples of ways you can overcome those barriers:

  • Start a process of how students can take safety courses and pay a membership fee to have access to labs across all majors. This could be difficult and lengthy, but not if you are only trying to gain access to one or two labs.
  • Extend lab hours. If there are labs that your organization could already meet in, but not unless the lab hours were extended, then find who can change that. Most faculty members will be more than willing to help you.
  • Expanding universities have new buildings under construction constantly. Be bold and explain to a decision maker why you want to claim space in a new building.

Find Space off Campus

Some student organizations are gaining enough support and see a need in having lab space off campus that is open 24/7/365 without university regulations mandating how they can run it. This type of approach to gaining lab access is very demanding of outside support, but offers the most flexibility for students and their projects. Here are ways that students have obtained support for off-campus labs:

  • Allocate space off-campus to build your own lab
  • Get alumni, especially previous student entrepreneurs or innovators, to sponsor.
  • Seek companies who would sponsor (believe in students prototyping); small & local or large & corporate
  • Apply for grants. Plenty exist if you search them out - be bold and dream big!
  • Present your organization/club to many different groups - entrepreneurship.
  • One example of a student organization already doing this is "Startup Aggieland" at Texas A&M University.