Maker Lab Transforms Ideas into Reality

November 11, 2018

Harp. Headphone holder. Telescope. Drone with LED lights. Foldable, electric-powered skateboard.

These are a few of the myriad projects students plan to create or are already producing in the Maker Lab (MLab) two blocks south of campus in Stew Art Studios (The Stew) at 927 Broad St.

MLab, which is open six days a week, offers training and workshops on design and fabrication (digital, woodwork, and metalwork), and supports individual students and maker groups. The lab includes a wood shop, metal shop, electronics, 3D printing and 3D carving, a 3D scanner, a laser cutter, a vinyl cutter, lathes, welding equipment, and a sewing machine.

Operating MLab as a joint partnership are the Grinnell Area Arts Council and the College’s Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership.

“Project-based learning enhances the type of creativity, critical thinking and teamwork that is at the core of our liberal arts,” says Monty Roper, director of the Wilson Center and associate professor of anthropology.

MLab is free and open not only to Grinnell College students but also to local students enrolled in middle school, high school, and Iowa Valley Community College. Adult residents of Grinnell are welcome to use MLab for a nominal fee. Although the Arts Center has not finalized the cost structure, there will be one-time charges for workshops, as a well as a membership option and possibly an hourly use option.

“The lab offers a special opportunity to both provide a resource and enable our students to learn from and give back to the community,” says Sage Kaplan-Goland ’20, a physics major from Granville, Ohio, and student manager of MLab.

Jonathan Rebelsky ’20, a music and chemistry major from Grinnell who worked for the Wilson Center last summer to help construct MLab, agrees. “MLAb fits incredibly well with the College's goal of enhancing Grinnell and creating more opportunities for students to interact with local residents,” he says.

Anh-Thu Pham ’19, a native of Vietnam and a computer science major from Shakopee, Minn., provides training and troubleshooting to those using MLab as one of six student monitors who staff the facility 25 hours a week. “I like supporting this space that enables people to make what they want,” she says. “I’m the only female monitor, and I’m glad to be here to help create an atmosphere that is welcoming to all students. I want everyone to know there’s no reason to be afraid of power tools.”

Kaplan-Goland initially proposed a makerspace as a first-year student. He reached out to faculty and administrators for help, eventually connecting with Board of Trustees Chair Patricia Jipp Finkelman ’80. She suggested he contact the Wilson Center, which he did. The center then worked out a partnership with the Arts Council, creating a joint venture that made MLab a reality in Kaplan-Goland’s third year.

“It was a long process,” he says, “but it was worth it.”