Makerspaces Bring Together Creativity and Innovation

Three students standing and sitting next to a 3D printer

What’s a “makerspace?” While the term may not yet have filtered down to everyday use, in the age of innovation the concept behind it is quickly gaining momentum. Also known as hackerspaces, fab labs, and makelabs, makerspaces are creative laboratories where members with common interests—such as engineering, computer programming, inventing, graphic design, and others—gather to share resources and knowledge, network, and build things.

As makerspaces begin to pop up across the country and around the world, Rutgers University has jumped into the mix with vigor.

“Makerspace environments provide tools and technology, and peer and mentor support,” said Stephen Carter, Director of the Rutgers School of Engineering Advanced Technology Extension (RATE). “Simply stated, makerspaces are places where creativity and innovation come together, and are fostered and encouraged. If you look at the world’s major technology companies—Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google—a huge percentage of them started in someone’s garage. We are building garages.”

To that end, the university has embarked on an effort to create a network of makerspaces with varying concentrations. Space has already been secured on the Livingston Campus for a solar innovation-centered makerspace. An existing lab in Hill Center on the Busch Campus will be equipped to support computer science and electrical engineering interests. And in Newark, plans are in the works to create a makerspace focused on business and entrepreneurship.

“This effort has great support at the university level,” said Carter, who is heading the charge with Rick Anderson, Director of Rutgers' Division of Continuing Studies’ Virtual Worlds. “Makerspaces encourage hands-on experience and skills building, which make them a great fit for public research institutions like Rutgers. Access to these facilities can combine with and enhance course curriculum.”

The concept naturally merges into continuing education and lifelong learning, according to Anderson. “Makerspaces can be highly valuable for professional skills development,” he said. “Programs that tap into these facilities can offer their students the ability to access and work with the latest technologies, which in turn will enhance their marketability. And this is not limited to on-campus programs. As more makerspaces are established in local communities, the benefit to hybrid learning will be significant. Imagine being able to complete the online portion of a program from your home, and then go to a local makerspace to do the hands-on project component.”

At the other end of the lifelong learning spectrum, Anderson anticipates that makerspaces will become a valuable part of Rutgers’ STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs, which work with high schools and middle schools to enrich math and science education. The goal is to increase student interest and preparedness to pursue a degree one of these subject areas.

“We want to work with young, aspiring developers and engineers by incorporating makerspace resources into the STEM programs,” he said. “Then, when these students attend Rutgers University, we have the makerspaces available for them to continue innovating while studying here.”

Looking ahead, Rutgers plans to establish additional makerspaces throughout the university and also is looking to partner with local communities for space and equipment.

For more information, email Carter at scarter@rutgers.edu.

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