How to reimagine unused lab space on your campus
Open Lab Days at Kettering University
The following article provides instructions and tips on how to implement an Open Lab session on your campus. It also provides some tricks that made it as successful as it was. The Open Lab time for students drew its inspiration from Alan Xia a double major student in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering at Kettering University. This entrepreneurial idea of making an Open Lab session not only helps the students, but also the community.
What did you learn from your experience:
Everyone knows that hands on experience is one of the most foolproof ways to learn. Alan's advice to those who wish to start an Open Lab session on campus is to get the professors involved. He noted that if the professors weren’t involved there was not as much participation. Also it's not the equipment that's expensive it's the material so if you can find equipment that's not often used. Or a professor does not mind sharing take them up on the offer. Another idea to cut costs is to go to a local business and offer to buy their scrap mettle if you are in need of small pieces of material. Alan made note not to put an open lab session time within a week of major exam times because attendance really drops around those time. Lastly, and most importantly those involved must have a learn through play mentality. Professors are their to help if questions arise, not to speak on what the participants will be completing that week.
In order to actually run an open lab session, Alan first sourced funding for materials and food to draw students in. He stated that the true cost of running an open lab was not very high. Next he began advertising around his campus and on facebook.. In addition, he alerted professors that this event was going to occur and to please invite their students. The two main practices that were performed in the labs were welding and foundry. Experimental learning surrounding these sciences made participants eager to come back again.
How to spread the word about the open lab session event:
One way Alan spread the word about the open lab session was through the use of posters. They were placed on billboards throughout the entire campus. Another option they used for gaining more students was their campus Student life and event invites sent to through the email system on campus to reach all students. Lastly they used good old social media to spread the word about Open Lab sessions, they used local schools Facebook pages and also posted it in the surrounding school websites using a minimum age 7 and up to use the equipment with proper safety precautions.
How was the project funded:
Because Alan was from a relatively small school, funding his project required some outsourcing. Luckily, Kettering University was closely affiliated with General Motors, and they predominantly supported the project. They provided the school with enough money for the project start up, supplies, and food and drinks to attract students to the lab. Since the open lab days were only done once each semester (with 3 semesters in each year) it was not an overly expensive project to fund.
How was the project sustained:
<span style="font-size:medium;"</span>Though it was originally difficult to attract people to open lab days, food was offered as an incentive to participate. This was done originally to attract students to the lab. Alan said that once an audience was developed, less money could be spent on food and more money could be spent on materials in the lab. Open lab days were sustained through both student and faculty support, as well as support from General Motors, who funded most of the project.
How would you have done it differently:
In order to lessen the workload, it was discovered that working on projects like this often function better when working in teams. Alan said that it was a lot of work to contact General Motors and spread the word about his new open lab day programs. If he were to do it again, and he recommends to anyone starting their own on campus project, that they assemble a team to distribute the workload. In addition Alan stated that involving professors led to much better attendance of students. So when instructing new groups on how to begin open lab sessions, he recommended that professors are involved early on in the process.
In the future, Alan Xai and his team intend to certify students with a machine shop training certificate. These students would then be able to supervise and certify other lab session attendees in the use of welding and foundry tools. So far Alan’s program has managed to certify eight members in machine shop training. In the future he hopes that open lab days will lead to even more certified participants.