The Student Newspaper at Middlebury College

The Middlebury Campus

Students Plan Makerspace

By Henry Burnett

Students such as Joey Button ’18 and Leo McElroy ’18 demonstrate just how creative Middkids can be. Over the past several months, the two sophomores have worked tirelessly to establish a Middlebury “Makerspace,” a design lab-type space where students can realize projects with power tools on campus. Despite several setbacks, including a proposal denial by the College’s Fund for Innovation, Button and McElroy continue to champion a Makerspace and receive growing support.

“A friend and I have spent a portion of our free time building a laser sensor system that tracks and updates how crowded the dining halls are, so students can make more informed decisions about how to spend time and avoid meal rushes,” McElroy said. “What’s made the project hard is that it’s extremely difficult to get access to tools. There is no open, accessible and welcoming space on campus where one can make something. So last fall some friends and I set about to change this.”

“I realized opening up some of the shops [such as the ceramics studio] will only give people who know what they’re doing the opportunity to make. That doesn’t help many people. We need an open, communal space,” he added. “Recently, Middlebury’s reputation as an innovative institution has grown more prominent. However, we’re still missing an essential piece of the puzzle. A Makerspace would equip the Middlebury population with the tools of creation – tools for metalworking, woodworking, fabric working, electronic integration and digital fabrication.”

Vice President for Academic Development and Professor of American Studies Tim Spears helped consider the proposal when it came before the Fund for Innovation.

“The proposal was turned down, not because the project was ‘too entrepreneurial,’” he said in an email, “but because the Fund Advisory Board saw the proposal as a request for infrastructure that the College as a whole – not the Board – needed to engage. The proposals that we’ve funded through the FFI have tended to be for innovative projects, not spaces or equipment that support such projects.”

Although the Board denied the proposal, Spears said he has encouraged Button and McElroy to keep working to establish a makerspace.

“I believe the College has a great need for a space like the one Joey and Leo have proposed. Students currently have no place to go on campus to build a bookshelf, weld a piece of machinery or work with high-tech equipment, like a 3-D printer,” Spears added.

Even with the support of administrators such as Spears, the two students face numerous challenges before they can make the Makerspace a reality.

“We’ve gotten a lot of support, but we haven’t found that person who can say, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’ I’m not sure that exists in a single person,” McElroy said. “It takes a lot of us saying, ‘This is something we want and this is something we’re willing to work for.’”

“Assuming we did move forward with such a project – and we do not currently have a plan to do so – there are practical elements we would have to consider,” Spears added. “What building it would go in, what sort of renovations would be necessary to support it, HVAC, etc. and how it would be staffed – there are safety issues to keep in mind.”

No matter what obstacles arise, Button and McElroy will keep fighting for a Makerspace on campus.

“We know this is something that Middlebury can do. It’s something most people would really like and that many people would use, so that makes us think it’s something Middlebury should do,” McElroy said.​

Leave a Comment