Makerspaces Go Mobile

person working on electronic device
Student Cole Thomas works at the Electronics Bench in engineering’s makerspace.

A new partnership will bring makerspace technology, design thinking and social-emotional learning concepts to all corners of the state. 

By Micaela Myers 

For years, University of Wyoming students, personnel and the greater community have had access to amazing makerspaces at the Laramie campus that are stocked with high-tech tools and other creative accessories for learning, exploring and making things. The uses range from entrepreneurial to practical to research and everything in between. Now, a statewide and campus-wide partnership will bring mobile makerspaces, along with concepts of social-emotional learning, to the rest of Wyoming.

UW Innovation Wyrkshop Makerspace Coordinator Tyler Kerr and Trustees Education Initiative Managing Director Colby Gull first suggested the idea of the mobile makerspace project while brainstorming innovative ways to provide crucial support of Wyoming K–12 students during the pandemic. Team members from UW’s Innovation Wyrkshop, Trustees Education Initiative and College of Business gathered ideas from Wyoming education stakeholders, including the Wyoming Afterschool Alliance and Wyoming Department of Workforce Services—which led to the development of the UW Social-Emotional Learning Mobile Makerspace (SELMM) project, an element of the Wyoming Innovations Partnerships.

“We are eager to launch the social-emotional learning mobile makerspace project through support of Gov. Mark Gordon’s office and the Wyoming Innovation Partnerships initiative,” says Trustees Education Initiative Enterprise for Elevating Educational Excellence Director Curtis Biggs. “The mobile makerspaces will provide forward-thinking ways to directly serve Wyoming schools, community and industry.”

The SELMM will bring technology and associated training to communities that do not have immediate access to such maker facilities and will underpin student learning through collaboration, goal setting and design thinking. It will also support Wyoming businesses and entrepreneurs in their designing, manufacturing and training. In addition, the project will help train UW students via internships in social-emotional learning, design thinking and makerspace technologies, Biggs says.

Ronn Smith, senior associate dean of the College of Business, notes, “The intersection of schools and businesses in these makerspaces is a very exciting aspect of the project. This exposure to industry increases student awareness of local opportunity and the skills specific to the businesses—essentially creating a customized home-grown talent pipeline in our rural communities.”

Partnerships are a hallmark of Trustees Education Initiative programming, and partners on the project include the College of Education, College of Engineering and Applied Science (Innovation Wyrkshop), College of Business, Department of Visual and Literary Arts, Manufacturing Works, Wyoming Afterschool Alliance, Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and WyoTech. Partnership with community colleges will be critical to both the dispatch of the mobile makerspaces across the state and creation of maker resources and services that complement those already in place. The SELMM team welcomes additional partners as the program expands.

Kerr says that the purpose of these roving mobile K–12 tech labs is to provide equal access to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) resources and technology for rural and remote communities. Initially, they’ll be retrofitting one 25-foot school bus and two 15-foot cargo trailers but hope to expand the fleet in the future. The team anticipates that these larger mobile makerspaces will serve young adults, college students and community members, complementing existing mobile spaces across the Mountain West, such as the Think Make Create labs built by the Wyoming Afterschool Alliance that serve K–8 audiences.

“Each makerspace will be fitted with a large suite of tools that include 3D printers, 3D scanners, laser cutters, electronics equipment, soldering stations, woodshop tools, sewing machines, machine cutters, virtual reality stations and more,” Kerr says. “In addition, we’ll be deploying a number of compartmentalized mobile makerspace ‘creative crates’ with one or two machines that educators can gain access to for free.”

Educators can apply to use these resources for a set period of time, and Kerr hopes community members will use them as well. Teachers don’t need to worry about developing their own curriculum, as the Maker Access Pass program offers 90-plus pre-designed workshops that educators can use to teach their students how to use the equipment, how to teach and learn critical social and emotional learning competencies through the College of Education, and even how to begin to market that next groundbreaking invention through entrepreneurial classes designed by the College of Business, Kerr says.

“Our hope is that down the road, having so many creative communities and entrepreneurial ideas bubbling up from all corners of the state might put Wyoming in an excellent position to become the next ‘Silicon Sagebrush,’” he says. “And that’s pretty exciting to imagine.”

Art Meets Engineering

Opened in 2019, the Engineering Education and Research Building isn’t just high tech—it will also soon offer visitors a work of public art commissioned from the 1% state Art in Public Buildings program through the Wyoming Arts Council. The piece is being created by Department of Visual and Literary Arts Professor Ashley Carlisle and Academic Professional Research Scientist David L. Jones.

They are creating a 15-foot-tall 10-foot-wide sculpture to be installed the south side of the building in summer of 2022.

“It was inspired by Charles Bellamy, who was a former engineering college dean, the first person to hold an engineering license in the U.S. and the husband of Marie Bellamy—the first woman elected to the state legislature,” Jones says. “He was also a member of the Boston Scientific Society and, as the story goes, was in the room when the discussion began about the invention of the telephone.”

“After learning about Bellamy, we were introduced to one of his transits that helped survey the Snowy Range,” Carlisle says. “This apparatus is beyond beautiful from end to end in how every brass, copper, wood and measurement increment comes together to create a stunning tool.”

This transit inspired their sculpture.

“Well-engineered ideas are often beautiful objects and deserve to be admired and enjoyed,” Carlisle says. “The Engineering Education and Research Building is well designed in every aspect of its function and aesthetics. Our hope was to add to this artistically. To survey means to make exact measurements and determine boundaries. This entails providing data relevant to the shape, contour, gravitation, location, elevation or dimension of land features on or near the Earth’s surface. More importantly, a surveyor is one who investigates or examines something. Both artists and engineers can be thought of as surveyors of their field, examining a problem so that a solution can be provided that could possibly change the world around us. As artists, we are both attracted to engineering that can be summed up in an object that is created to make something work or to provide information. How parts move and materials are juxtaposed next to each other for function can often become beautiful to the eye.”

The sculpture consists of fabricated steel, cast iron, wood and glass that will reflect all that is celebrated inside the building. They cast the iron elements at UW with students from art and engineering utilizing iron that has been donated by the community. The scope of the transit will be pointed toward the Snowy Range, and it will be placed on the large grass area directly south of the south-side entrance.

In addition to their faculty positions as sculptors, Jones and Carlisle own WindDriven Studios LLC, which employs alumni and collaborators in the region to build public art for the state and beyond.

“Living in Wyoming, you come to learn very quickly about all of what Wyoming has to offer to the country simply by speaking with those around us who are generations deep into its history,” Carlisle says. “Regardless of where Bellamy was born, he chose to settle in Laramie and brought to it prestige in being the first in the United States to be nationally licensed in engineering. David and I can relate to this, as we ourselves are transplants to Wyoming and, after 18 years, it has truly positively impacted our lives and work and become our home.”

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