The Case for Makerspace

By Guest Contributor

What makes an idea powerful? A good idea is not implicitly powerful; an idea is made powerful by being shared.

Over the past few months, a friend and I have built 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. But progress has been slow and the project has proven difficult. This is not because the sensors are actually hard to build. I’m quite confident that, given the opportunity, all of you would be capable of building the same system. 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. In my search for tools I encountered many others with the same problem: creative ideas stifled by a lack of access to tools and a disjointed network of students with knowledge and skills. So, last fall, some friends and I set about to change this. We decided to create a space where these people can come together and teach others how to take an idea and bring it into the world, a space where ideas are shared and empowered; a makerspace.

We invested a huge amount of care and effort into a proposal to the Fund for Innovation. We asked students to tell us why you would like a makerspace on campus, and many of you responded: students, faculty and staff representing over 27 different academic departments from across campus. But ultimately — despite recognizing its merit — our proposal was denied on the basis of “belonging within a greater conversation of the role of entrepreneurship on campus.” But a makerspace is not just about entrepreneurship. A makerspace is about community. A makerspace is about empowering individuals. A makerspace is where ideas are made real, sharable and powerful. While academia fosters the pursuit of ideas, innovation fosters the sharing of idea. Middlebury has the opportunity to create a space for the intersection of the two.

Recently, Middlebury’s reputation as an innovative institution has grown more prominent. However, we’re still missing an essential piece of the puzzle. A place where people can go to “make,” and where they can learn to “make” together. A makerspace would equip the Middlebury population with the tools for creation — metalworking, woodworking, fabric working, electronic integration and digital fabrication. In a makerspace today, people are more capable of creating than ever before. New technology lowers the barriers of creation to a point where anyone could learn to make almost anything. Technology that unleashes the innovative potential of individuals to revolutionize the world of atoms the way personal computers revolutionized the world of bits: by equipping people to bring their ideas in the world. This is how we’d like to equip you.

Earlier this week, you received a survey (which can be found at go/make) that asked if you’d be willing to have a makerspace in the Bunker. If we vote yes, there is a realistic possibility that Middlebury will have a makerspace in time for current students to access it. After months of planning, we’ve found that the Bunker is the most realistic place for this makerspace. There are some downsides to the use of this location, but I urge you to consider the immense opportunity at hand. An opportunity to create something that could dramatically enrich our experience. A place that could empower individuals at Middlebury to develop their ideas for years to come.

Leo McElroy ’18 is from Westport, Conn.

Joey Button ’17 is from Seattle, Wash.

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