Makers Club Looks to Make Waves

Not to oversell things, but this school year has the potential to be a watershed moment in Colgate’s history. We are facing transitions in senior leadership, the impending bicentennial anniversary, the aftermath of last year’s social activism and demonstrations.  You’ve heard about these issues, but there is another.

Colgate stands at the precipice of a rare opportunity to take the lead and set the standard for liberal arts institutions. Across the nation and around the world, institutions of higher education are attempting to integrate “making” in a liberal arts education. Most attempts so far have been extremely tentative, and many have missed the point entirely.  

The phrase “Maker Movement” is a misnomer. It implies a monolithic organization, but there are myriad “maker” movements, with radically different values and goals. Despite the differences, most do cohere around a loose set of shared traits and values.

Makers share curiosity and a tendency towards passion and drive. They are inherently questioning, curious people. Of course, makers also make things. These common traits lead to a few shared values: openness, collaboration and a low tolerance for the “just because.”  

Now that communication is easy, instant and effectively free, the old systems can’t compete. Witness the rise of open everything.  Open source software, such as Firefox and Bitcoin, is free and malleable, creating new possibilities and out-performing proprietary offerings. Open hardware projects such as Open Source Ecology, the RepRap project and the Open Source Seed Initiative are making our world more sustainable, resilient and prosperous. Makers are also making the world a better place.

Back to our opportunity to seize leadership. Most of our peer institutions are taking steps to have some kind of makerspace on campus. All of them are embracing a centralized, top-down and restricted-access approach.  

But Colgate is doing something different. You’ve probably seen the two 3D printers that ITS has provided in the library.  These are 100 percent free to use, open-access, unregulated, walk-up-and-print. This is unique. But there’s more. Complementing the university’s efforts to provide free and open tools, there is a bottom-up effort underway that promises to be transformational.

Founded at the end of last semester, the Colgate Makers Club is a new organization with grand ambitions. We hope to eventually accommodate and facilitate making of all varieties, from fashion design, to writing code, to building drones, to traditional crafts. Starting out, we are focusing on 3D printing because it is relatively cheap and easy. Here are a few of our plans:

Build-Your-Own-Printer (BYOP): Every dorm and classroom has the potential to be a mini-makerspace. We are preparing to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise $50,000, which will fund the purchase of 100 3D printer kits. Makers Club will then host a series of BYOP workshops, where we guide you through building a printer. Anyone who completes a BYOP workshop and builds a printer will walk away with their very own 3D printer. For free.

We will simultaneously launch the the world’s first collegiate league for Seej, a tabletop game designed for 3D printing. There is a starter set of 3D models you can download and print that include a mini catapult, flags and bricks. Two opponents set up their flags behind a wall of bricks and attempt to knock over the other’s flags using the catapult. The interesting bit is that you can design your own fortifications and ‘weapons’. Anything you can print, you can use.    

3D Printed Makerspace: We are investigating the feasibility of designing and building a large-format concrete printer. Several university teams, and even a lone student have built these from scratch. The next step is a Colgate Community-wide design competition for a 3D printed building that will function as the main maker hub on campus. If we aggressively pursue this, and complete it within the next two years, there is a real possibility that Colgate would have the world’s first inhabited 3D printed building. Seriously.

Recycling: Did you know that the most common consumer plastics such as PET (soda bottles), HIPS (cd cases, computer housings, toys), PP (plastic shopping bags) and more are all raw materials for 3D printing? Colgate Makers Club has purchased a machine that will allow us to take objects made from these materials and produce 3D printing filament from them. We can then print new objects from the material.  

Community Outreach: We plan to extend beyond the campus confines, working with and learning from local makers with many different skill sets. We also hope to work with local schools.  We can help ensure that following generations are as passionate about making, and even better trained that we are.  

Printathon 2015: The 3D Printing Club at Brandeis University has pioneered a 3D printing hackathon, or printathon.  The event pits small teams against a design challenge over 24 hours. We will be sending a team to compete on October 3rd.  

Expanded E-Weekend: Entrepreneur’s Weekend is the culminating event of the year-long Thought Into Action program.  Making and entrepreneuring are very similar activities.  One involves making things, the other is making organizations. Makers Club would like to bring prominent makers and thought leaders – people who are driving the change we see in the world – to Colgate for an event that is equal parts TED conference and Maker Faire.

An Innovation Residential Commons (RCs): We are crafting a proposal to make one of the later RCs into a hub for innovation. This RC would house the various extracurricular activities that could be labeled applied liberal arts.This would effectively become a center for design thinking, making and entrepreneuring. To learn more about this concept, check out the Chronicle’s excellent article, “Is ‘Design Thinking’ the New Liberal Arts?”  We will have more to say about this as we further develop the proposal.

These are just some of our planned initiatives and goals.  As a new club, we face a lot of uncertainty. But we also face wide open possibility. With the brain power on campus, and the support Colgate gives us, none of the goals above are out of reach.