DREAM, CREATE, INNOVATE

 

“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success.” – Nikola Tesla

Penn College Professor Tom Ask and student Nina Hadden celebrate opening of new campus makerspace.

A new space for creation is warming hearts at Pennsylvania College of Technology, the home base for production of the Working Class public television series.

Last week, at dedication ceremonies marking the opening of The Welch Workshop: A Makerspace at Penn College, President Davie Jane Gilmour said, “When I look around this space, I envision ideas that will turn into inventions, and inventions that will turn into exciting partnerships among students who wish to dream, create and innovate.”

Penn College students Thomas P. Abernatha, Christopher D. Fox and John A. Gondy, who designed the makerspace, were the first to put their creative talents to work there.

“… I envision ideas that will turn into inventions, and inventions that will turn into exciting partnerships among students who wish to dream, create and innovate.” – Davie Jane Gilmour, Ph.D.

Gondy, a senior in residential construction technology and management, called the challenge a “definite peak” in his college experience and said, “Seeing this come to fruition makes me feel like I’ve left a legacy behind that will give others the ability to create and innovate with no bounds.”

Makerspace design presentation led by Penn College students in 2017

His “innovate with no bounds” ideas echo those of the legendary inventor Thomas Edison, who once proclaimed, “There are no rules here. We’re trying to accomplish something.”

I feel very confident that many “somethings” will be accomplished in the future in this new campus makerspace, which was a dream of faculty, administrators and former students in recent years.

During a roundtable discussion featured in the Telly Award-winning Working Class: Dream & Do documentary, Thomas Ask, professor of industrial design, said the idea for creating such a space at Penn College was “nothing radically new.”

Professor Tom Ask leads an industrial design lab, a program-specific forerunner of today’s campus makerspace.

While there were many small, program-related maker spaces around campus for years, Ask and others knew that students would benefit from one that was larger and more inclusive.

“If we had a communal one, not only do you get better facilities, but you get a community …You have to get the right kind of people doing the right kind of thing, and then it grows from relationships and it grows organically,” he said.

2017 Academic Impressions article noted that while, in past, specific academic departments managed most campus incubators, new makerspaces, including  The Garage at Northwestern University, create a kind of “Switzerland” on campus, where students and faculty in different areas of study come together to share ideas and resources.

The executive director of The Garage at Northwestern was quoted in the article as saying: “We want to help students develop an entrepreneurial toolkit, but I don’t believe you can do this in the traditional classroom. You need to create space for students to solve problems creatively, build a team, and develop and pitch surprising ideas and projects.”

Interesting side note: Penn College and Northwestern have at least two things in common – a campus makerspace and a Wildcat mascot for campus athletics!

Penn College wildcat

A makerspace should tap into the notion of “creativity and creation and wonder and play and desire to improve things … It really helps when you have a place to do it and other people to do it with,” declared Professor Ask during the Working Class roundtable discussion.

Andrea McDonough Varner, K-12 art curriculum coordinator in the Williamsport Area School District and adjunct professor at Lycoming College, who also participated in the roundtable, echoed the professor’s thoughts about building a community of doers.

“It’s about rebuilding human interactions,” she said. “When we collaborate, or we’re given the opportunity or the space to collaborate, to speak with one another, to get our hands dirty together, I think it’s a beautiful thing.”

Andrea McDonough Varner (first row center, with glasses) and Tom Ask (first from left in back row) were among the faculty appearing in Telly Award-winning Working Class: Dream & Do, which featured a discussion of campus makerspaces.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development recently recognized another K-12 educator, Southern Tioga School District’s Sarah Murray, for transforming the libraries at Blossburg and Liberty Elementary Schools into makerspaces.

“I tell my students that a makerspace gives them the opportunity to use their hands and their minds together to accomplish a project,” Murray said. “Some who walk in my room may say that they are ‘just playing,’ but it is so much more than that! … I think that makerspaces give students the opportunity to make, create, design, and play without worrying about ‘failing’ or doing something exactly perfectly or for a grade. I encourage them to try new things and always be exploring.”

“There are no rules here. We’re trying to accomplish something.” — Thomas Edison

Working Class applauds educators who encourage discovery and help students gain comfort with the concept of failing and learning from their mistakes.

“The maker movement is validating in the sense that, you know what, you can make mistakes,” according to Professor Ask. “That’s how you make these great advances in technology and other areas, or invention … by pursuing a whole new concept. What if, what if, what if?”

Pursuing the “what ifs” has a potential long-term payoff for the students, as well as for the workforce and the community.

“I think that makerspaces help instill a sense of learning and creativity in students,” declared Southern Tioga’s librarian. “My students always ask for makerspace time when they come in to the library, and I think that carrying this sense of hard work and curiosity will only help in the future in whatever type of career path that they choose to take.”

While it will be interesting to see how the introduction of makerspaces on college campuses influences the workforce of the future, it is important to remember that academics are the foundation upon which the makerspaces evolve.

“Chemistry, math, physics, are all great precursors to the Maker movement,” Professor Ask concluded. “If makers are a spontaneous response to education, that’s a wonderful thing. They’re saying, ‘I learned all this stuff. I want to try it. I don’t want to try it with a teacher there, I don’t want to try it with somebody else. I just want to take some buddies and try it, see what happens, while nobody’s watching. Show somebody, “Look what I made,” and be proud of it.’ That’s the beauty of it, strictly as an adjunct to what I call traditional education.”

Three cheers for the Penn College makerspace and the students, faculty, administrators and donors whose innovative dreams led to its creation!

“When we collaborate, or we’re given the opportunity or the space to collaborate, to speak with one another, to get our hands dirty together, I think it’s a beautiful thing.” — Andrea McDonough Varner

#makerspaces #makerspace #MakerEd

 

 

 

 

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