Connecting College Students to Local Makerspaces

Connecting College Students to Local Makerspaces

On Saturday morning Sharona and I went to a summit at Onondaga Community College.  The summit was put on by the Arts in Higher Education Consortium, a group which is sponsored by CNY Arts.  To borrow wording from the meeting’s agenda, AIHE wants to “connect students with existing arts incubators & makerspaces.”  To try to achieve this goal, they invited AIHE members to their summit–but they also reached out personally to people who run local makerspaces and arts incubators, and invited us to the summit too.  Group like SALT, The Gear Factory, Utica Rust 2 Green, Sculpture Space, The Society for New Music, and even Syracuse Coworks were present, in addition to plenty of people who work in the arts in colleges and universities around Central New York.

It was really great to get to hear from representatives of all these groups.  As much as we here at MakerBridge are all about defining the maker movement to include making just about anything, I still don’t usually find myself talking to people who run artists’ residencies for sculptors or commission new classical music–much less someone who runs a coworking space.  I was fascinated to hear so many different perspectives on how people are going about creating the peer networks, informal learning opportunities, and support that are so central to the maker movement.

Two major themes that kept coming up from the traditional educators in the room were the desire to help students overcome their fear of failure, and the desire to help students master the art of solving problems creatively.  These desires tie in closely with an article recommended to us at the very start of the summit: What does it mean to sustain a career in the gig economy?  The article is focused on the fact that more and more people are starting to have careers like what many artists have, where instead of having a traditional 40-hours-a-week job they work with ever-changing collaborators on a series of “gigs” that could call on them to use any number of different skills.  What really leaped out to me in that article, though, was the list of “creative competencies,” or skills that artists have that they can apply to any job:

the ability to: Deal with ambiguity, Collaborate on emergent creative projects, Improvise, Give and receive critical feedback, Reason with analogy and metaphor, Tell compelling stories using multiple platforms and media, Radically revise work, Generate and audition many ideas

Nearly all of those are the very same skills that we promote makerspaces and maker activities as supporting.  The next question became, how can we get students involved in these kinds of activities?  There were many suggestions, including:

  • Teachers can assign their students to go into a makerspace and take a photo, to get them in the door and aware of what’s happening there.
  • Teachers can require a class to participate in some kind of maker/arts incubator organization/event.
  • Students could do independent studies or capstone projects that involve working in a makerspace.
  • Someone could create a for-credit, hands-on course focusing on creative problem solving and learning from failure.
  • Arts incubators can offer internships allowing students to take on a wide variety of tasks to learn what they might be interested in pursuing as a career.
  • Makerspaces could offer sponsored memberships for students who will go back to their home campuses and help promote the makerspace.

Regardless of what else we do, there was broad consensus that makerspaces, incubators, and educators need to be working together.  Students need the skills they can learn in these spaces; these spaces need a source of interested participants like students.  In short, we need to get students (and faculty!) out of their comfortable niches and make them aware of all the possibilities that already exist for them.  We need to put them into makerspaces, incubators, or coworking spaces where they can spark ideas off the people around them and learn to address problems as they arise, using any skills they can bring to bear–and these spaces can grow the community they need to keep them going.

The discussion at this AIHE Summit was great, and I honestly was disappointed when the conversation had to end so that AIHE could deal with other business.  I feel like it broadened the way I’ve been thinking about all of this, and it also had a very practical takeaway: Sharona and I are now busy coming up with plans to take the SUNY Oswego Maker Club on field trips to many of the locations we learned about at the summit.

Have you been to a gathering like this one, or do you have further insights into how higher ed and makerspaces (and arts incubators!) can work together?  Drop me a comment, or tweet at @makerbridge.


Image attribution: “Sheldon Hall” by Kim is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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