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Sparks of Creation

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Trinity’s Makerspace gives all majors a chance to innovate

by Jeremy Gerlach

You don’t see many English majors welding these days.

But at Trinity, there’s a place where students like Aidan Windorf ’21, an English and chemistry double major, can operate heavy-duty laser cutters, 3D printers, lathes, and beyond, all elbow-to-elbow with engineering students and with guidance from dedicated shop professionals.

“This is Trinity’s Makerspace,” Windorf says. “The shop is a place where you can come with a wild idea, ask professionals for advice, and you get access to—and training for—all the tools you need to create it, and anything else you can dream of.”

Interior of Trinity's makerspace

Windorf stumbled upon the MakerSpace through a class called Engineering 2191: How to Make. Held for the first time ever in Spring 2019, this class is an opportunity for students of all majors to spend a semester learning how to use machinery in the MakerSpace.

“It’s just a wonderful chance to build whatever you want to build,” Windorf adds.

In the class, led by engineering science professor Kevin Nickels, some of Windorf’s fellow students created artwork, one student created a 3D Settlers of Catan board game, and another even built a functioning Tesla turbine. Windorf, who used to play the cello, decided to make a violin.

Aidan Windorf designs a violin

Windorf may be an English major, but as he describes how he brought this musical project to life in the shop, he sounds like an engineering regular.

“I used a Zing laser cutter to create the violin face,” Windorf starts, his words picking up steam as he points to each part of his creation. “I traced out a simple design in Adobe Illustrator, and then the device made a simple, clean cut. I used the 3D printers in the back of the shop to create the violin pegs, and to craft the tailpiece, where the strings are fastened. And then I used the CNC router to create the violin body, making my 3D design in Fusion 360 software.”

These words might not have made any sense to Windorf’s old self just a semester ago. But in Trinity’s Makerspace, students can become more than their majors.

Face of violin under construction

Interdisciplinary Invention

Windorf actually first heard about the chance to explore the Makerspace while working in Trinity’s theater department, where he saw a flyer for the How to Make class.

“As an English major, I didn’t know this room existed,” Windorf says. “So I saw that in this engineering class, humanities majors, people who wouldn’t normally take an engineering course or be involved in STEM, would get the chance to interact with the software and these tools to create things that they otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to.”

In the class, students learn the basics of the creative engineering process, progressing from making simple drawings to shaping them into creations through design software and eventually, how to safely use state-of-the-art machinery.

“We’ve learned a whole bunch of different machines, we’ve learned how to safely use hand tools, and software that we never would have encountered if we hadn’t taken this class,” Windorf says.  “And we just keep making things.”

Makerspace students work on projects

In the Makerspace, engineering students and humanities majors working side-by-side is a win-win, Windorf explains.

“It’s very different to be among engineering students as a humanities major, working on projects like this,” Windorf says. “It’s not a disadvantage, because [engineers] are very scientific, good at getting all the calculations, while I work through problems piece-by-piece. But it’s great that these students, regardless of major, work on a common project. When we’re all in the shop, [we’re] commenting on other people’s projects, and giving advice.”

Eventually, students like Windorf almost forget their backgrounds, losing themselves in the creative process.

“Now I’m a chemistry major, I’m an English major, I work in the theater, and I’m in the Makerspace,” Windorf says. “At Trinity, it’s hard to just be one thing.”

Shot of CNC router

Problem Solving

Beyond working with complicated machinery, complex equipment and advanced design software, all students working in the Makerspace are learning a bigger skill: how to problem solve.

For Windorf, it’s the most important skill that Trinity teaches. As he designed and prepared to create his violin this semester, Windorf can’t even count on his hands how many setbacks his design encountered.

“The closer I got [to finishing], the more things went wrong,” Windorf recalls. The neck of his violin, for example, gave him trouble for several days. “It wasn’t as clean as I would have liked.”

This was frustrating for Windorf, who says he’s always enjoyed making things through leatherworking and wood cutting growing up.

“It’s been a challenge, but when you’re well-equipped, with all the faculty and staff behind you, things go along more smoothly,” Windorf says.

Aidan Windorf shows project to faculty

Faculty and Staff Support

Creators in Trinity’s Makerspace aren’t on their own. They also have the guidance and support of world-class faculty and staff, Windorf notes.

“The faculty and staff support has been tremendous: Dr. Nickels has been incredibly wonderful in giving feedback on all my assignments, and whenever I have issues using software, or I have questions about pragmatics or designs… he’s really wonderful about pointing out all the different options,” Windorf says.

And outside of class, the Makerspace itself has a dedicated staff that maintain and monitor the shop equipment, as well as help students train and troubleshoot.

“In the shop, [prototyping/fabrication technician] Ryan Hodge has been wonderful, because every morning I come in here at the crack of dawn, and he’s always happy. And the fact that’s been helpful is great, because so many things have gone wrong with this project, but he’s been quick [to help]” Windorf says. “And [student apprentice] Jamie [Procter] has been great [with] a lot of things I need to learn: how to change the filaments in the 3D printers; there’s always someone on hand to teach you or to help you out. They’re watching over in case something goes wrong.”

Wilson Terrell teaches at computer

Engineering science professor Wilson Terrell Jr., who serves as a major facilitator for the Makerspace and has been an instrumental figure in its establishment and growth, is an active figure students can expect to encounter in the shop. Terrell regularly promotes the Makerspace through his connections to the student body, and works diligently with University leadership to continue to keep adding top-notch equipment to the facility.

The Makerspace staff also includes additional technicians, student assistants and specialists, and is headed by science facilities manager Leslie Bleamaster, an adjunct geosciences professor, former Navy SEAL and NASA collaborator.

Working around the clock, this team keeps the shop humming, while also striving to keep it accessible to any Tiger who feels the urge to create.

Students use equipment in makerspace

Open Doors

Trinity is a relatively small school, but its Makerspace, located in the state-of-the-art Center for the Sciences and Innovation, has the resources to handle a much bigger capacity.

Even on days when the shop fills up, with engineering students and others buzzing in and out, there’s always an opportunity for students to work, due to the sheer range of tools available.

“As long as you have time to make it down to the shop, there’s three CNC routers, three 3D printers, there’s always something open, especially if you’re working on something with a lot of different aspects,” Windorf says. “I’m using almost every tool in there, so there’s always something you can do.”

This accessibility sets Trinity’s shop apart from other schools, Windorf notes.

“Not every university or college has a place like this, where anyone can come make anything that they want. Some do, but it’s only limited to engineering majors or those working on a project,” Windorf says.

But at Trinity, your background puts no limit on your creativity. So, if Windorf, English major, wants to weld?

“Next year,” Windorf grins, “I’m learning to weld.”

students welding