Just west of downtown Washington, D.C., nestled in a historic neighborhood bordered on the south by the Potomac River and on the west by wooded parkland is Georgetown University, a valued NMC member since 2005. Founded in 1789, the university is one of oldest in the United States and is renowned for its law and medical schools. While steeped in tradition, the institution embraces progressive ideas and is poised to be a hub for making.

My visit started on a muggy late summer day, just two weeks after the start of classes at the Georgetown University Library where I met Beth Campolieto Marhanka, Head of the Gelardin New Media Center. Accompanied by Barrinton Baynes, Multimedia Specialist, Beth and I walked through her Center where she described the transformation that has taken place over the past 15 years.

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In 2001, the center began with two VHS camcorders and one Mavica Camera and today it houses nearly 700 kits with 2,000 total pieces that sees a yearly circulation of over 16,000. The story doesn’t end with the addition of equipment and uptick in check-outs; the heart of it resides in the deep thinking about the use of space that is transforming how students and the greater community are engaging with making opportunities.

In a sit down conversation in one of the Center’s meeting rooms, Beth recounted the story of an inspiring sabbatical she undertook to visit libraries and investigate how they are rethinking their spaces – of those 20, 10 were academic libraries featuring several NMC members, including the University of Delaware, University of Virginia, Tufts, and Harvard Universities. She returned with a mission to establish making in her Center, found some underused space, and received funding to purchase their first 3D printers. Her collaborator was a faculty member in the business school who used the tools to prototype shapes of snack food items. The project was part of nonprofit fundraiser to combat hunger called No Kid Hungry, garnering good press and serving as a proof of concept for the value of makerspaces outside of traditional STEM disciplines.

As certain technologies within libraries become obsolete, an enormous opportunity usually fills its void. Take for example the amount of real estate microform reading rooms and storage cabinets occupy. Beth saw the microform reading room open up and immediately saw an opportunity. She began putting a call out to the campus for assistance in helping shape what would become the Georgetown Maker Hub, with their input on their needs as wells as the ability to tap into a $15,000 technology fund, she was able to purchase a laser cutter and additional materials for the reimagined space.

With a newly dedicated space and funding for equipment, Beth’s next task was finding the right person to staff it. That’s where Don Undeen comes in. I’ve been familiar with his work primarily through the Museum Computer Network conference, where I first heard of Don’s passion for making  a few years ago. At the time he was the head of the media lab at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where he experimented with hacking and remixing sculptures from the collection using photogrammetry and 3D printing. We even featured his work in an online program in 2014 where he told NMC members about his investigations.

 

While at the Gelardin New Media Center, I visited with Don in his unfinished space and we talked about his vision for the new Georgetown Maker Hub. The following is a transcript of our discussion:

AF: I know you from the Met when you talked about making in our MIDEA Connect Webinar > The Met 3D Hackathon: Practical Lessons for Your Institution. What brought you to the higher-ed making world at Georgetown?

DU: Sure. Well, coincidence, you know. One thing led to another like most things in my life. I was running the makerspace at the Met through accident and I left there about a year ago because my wife got a job down here and I spent a year consulting with various organizations, helping them think about how to create innovation spaces and through that work, I started doing some work with Georgetown’s Culture Communications and Technology program. They do a lot of interactive technology stuff and they did a whole semester class that was developing through interactive installation/interventions in the Old North building.

I helped the class think about the kinds of things that they wanted to do and the practicalities of doing it, just rolling up my sleeves and doing some raw coding for some of the projects. That’s how I met a lot of these people and I met Beth and heard of other spaces she was planning. And we just started talking about what she was envisioning for the space and it sort of led to bringing me on here to help pull it all together.

AF: What’s planned for this space?

DU: Well, there’s two rooms in here. We’ve got the think tank, where there is all the glass windows and that’s where we’ll be running some classes, panel-type classes, more seminar type sessions. We’re going to have a lot of whiteboard tables for ideation. I think of a think tank as something that facilitates communication and ideation, coming up with ideas and helping people talk across boundaries.

And then the makerspace is this room, which is where making activities will be happening. Honestly, one of the things I’m doing right now is just meeting as many people as I can, showing them the space and see what they tell me that they’re interested in. A lot of people are really excited about the loom, frankly., I have CS majors and engineering majors all coming here and I say, well what do you want to play with? And they’ll say, I want to get up in that loom! So, they are definitely going to be doing some loom stuff. I think that particular piece of equipment is looming large. [Laughs] Yeah, that’s right, I just said that. Leave that in.

So basically, our plan is to coordinate and work with classes, get classes in there thinking about how we could fit in with their curriculum. Work with individual students who have projects and just drop in if they want help. Working with student organizations and clubs, finding ways that maker-type activities can intersect with what they’re working on and that could be entrepreneurship clubs, working on new products. It could be engineering students working on something. I’m really interested in working with different cultural groups and to think about ways to do creative making around aspects of their lives.

We don’t have a big agenda where we have to accomplish, like this particular type of project, but we have a range of metrics that we’re tracking, but to me, it’s basically, if this room has got people in it and doing interesting stuff all the time, then I’m mostly happy. I’ve got things that I’m personally interested in, but I kind of see myself more as a facilitator than like, an instigator. I’d rather make these things available, encourage conversations around different things and create a space where people can independently and freely take on cool ideas. And figure out, how do you create a space, an environment where students are frankly, super-duper busy and create a space where they feel like they’ve got the time to learn something new and do something creative with it.

AF: Have you picked up any ideas, any tips for starting a makerspace at a university, specifically? Any tips from your short time here?

DU: Well hey, I’ve been here three weeks, I can tell you I’m already an expert. [Laughs] I feel like it would be premature to say that I have any sort of expertise in this. I guess depending on where you’re coming from and what your attitude is, I am trying to be conscious to be aware of how things are currently done and not rail against the system.

For me it’s taking the time to learn how the university does things and at least at the beginning adapting to that and then as things, we find out certain things don’t work, then modifying them as needed. I guess if someone was coming from outside the university into a university system, they might not be prepared for how many systems are already in place for stuff they’re already doing. So, taking the time to figure that out, I think is probably a good tip.

AF: Okay, so you’re learning how to use a sewing machine. Why are you doing that and what is it like compared to some of the other technologies you work with?

DU: It’s been on my mind so much. I don’t consider myself like number one social justice warrior or anything like that, but I will say, okay, I’ve been a programmer my whole life. I’m fully aware that like in tech fields women are underrepresented. And an argument made on the wrong side of the fence, in my opinion, is that somehow women are not suited for technology. Okay, so, I sat down at a sewing machine yesterday for maybe the first time in my life. My mom sewed her whole life, like the sound on a sewing machine is like a lullaby to me. My wife sews. I sat down there today and I can’t make heads or tails of it. I stared at it for hours, I still can’t figure out how it works, like literally not how to work it, but like, literally, how does that thread go up and down and that other thing moves through? I can’t fathom it, right?

It makes me appreciate like what a techie my mom is and how anyone can say that women don’t belong in technology when women have been…and not that men don’t sew, but like let’s look at who’s in the factories and have been doing this stuff for hundreds of thousands of years and have been operating complex thread-based machinery. It’s complicated. That’s been my ragging on that lately. So, that’s one of the reasons that it’s important to me that I learn how to sew because I kind of know how to use the other stuff in this space, but for some reason, sewing and textiles are like a blind spot for me and I need to get people in the space who also know how to use the different equipment.

AF: Part of what you’re dealing with is developing safety procedures. How have you approached that?

DU: Well, we’re totally ripping off the DC Public Library Fab Lab is what we did. They’ve got a great onboarding procedure, you know. It’s quick, it’s efficient. They’ve got a nice set of rules that they go through and they make everyone who wants to get onboard sign a safety waiver. So, we absolutely just straight-up copied their stuff and just changed the name DCPL to Maker Hub, using their stuff, we got our lawyers here to sign off on it. It’s been vetted, right? So, that’s great.

[When] people come into the space is they get safety spiel, they listen to the rules. They sign the safety waiver. We’ve got the first job of all the staff in the space is to perform some safety rules. The trickiest one is probably the sandals deal because all these kids wear flip-flops and you’re not going to wear flip-flops in here, you’re going to wear closed-toed shoes. Our strategy and our DNA is that we want to be very casual and drop-in. So, plan is to have a pile of Crocs and some Purel. It’s like when you go to a fancy restaurant and they give you the sports coat, because you didn’t wear one. It doesn’t fit right and you feel like a tool. Next time you remember. So, it will be sort of the same thing. You want to come in here, you’re going to wear these ridiculous Crocs.

The Georgetown Maker Hub opened October 19, 2016. Take a look at their website for more information about their programming and events: http://www.library.georgetown.edu/makerhub.