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Becoming a MakerBot Starter Lab

As we mentioned on our blog fairly recently, two universities have signed up to become MakerBot Starter Lab locations. The two schools are based in NY state, SUNY Cobleskill in Cobleskill, NY, and Union College, in Schenectady, NY. We reached out to both campuses to gain insight as to why each wanted to become a MakerBot StarterLab. This first set of responses comes from SUNY Cobleskill Chief Information Officer (CIO), James Dutcher. The interview was conducted via email, and the transcript is here below.

1) What prompted you to look into establishing a MakerBot 3D Starter Lab in your campus? Had anyone among the staff and faculty including yourself had experience with other 3D printers or 3D design?
There is some experience throughout the campus with 3D printing technologies. The goal is to improve student learning outcomes through creativity, by establishing interdisciplinary opportunities using hands-on 3D design, 3D printing, Additive Manufacturing (AM) in courses. Another objective will be to introduce and offer remote classes with excellent facilities, and a hands-on learning environment that features extensive experiential learning opportunities through the use 3D printing technologies for remote interdisciplinary instruction with our College in the High School partnerships.

2) What types of reactions have you had across campus since it was announced that it was coming?
VERY positive! So much so that that faculty/staff across the entire campus are conversing already on expanded use, applying for grants and thinking of future partnerships, possibilities and use.

3) What types of plans/campaigns are being put in place to market the Starter Lab?
The campus’ official internal communications have worked extremely and complimentary to the implicit word of mouth efforts. The excitement alone is carrying this on quite well.

4) Will there be some new cross-campus partnerships formed as a result?
We have already applied for grants that have faculty volunteering for cross-campus partnerships as well as multi-SUNY-campus and local high school partnerships.

5) Who will be able to take advantage of having this type of resource on campus and where will it be located?
We have 3D printing resources available in our Library and in the Warner Hall computer labs. Students and faculty will be able to take advantage of these in the same way they currently use paper printers across campus.

6) Will it limited to students taking particular courses or pursuing specific degrees?
No, the printers will not be limited. However, academic projects will take priority of non-academic printing.

7) What impact are you hoping this will have on your campus?
We expect to attract significant interdisciplinary interest given the wide applicability of 3D design, 3D printing, and Additive Manufacturing (AM) especially since these offer novel ways to break the barriers between the worlds of the hard sciences, engineering and the arts.

8) When do you anticipate having the Starter Lab fully up and running?
The Starter lab will be fully operational by 03/13/2015.

9) What are some of the long-term goals of the campus as it relates to both 3D printing and education in general?
We’?ll develop 3D design/printing academic programs and support services for our and partnered campuses and demonstrate open enrollment, interdisciplinary approaches which will benefit all students in their academic careers. Long term, SUNY Cobleskill will also develop introductory/advanced remote & online and self-paced 3D Printing student, faculty & staff development courses with our partner campuses. We’ll want to incorporate interdisciplinary, creative 3D Design, 3D Printing, in all future courses.

10) Will this be the only set of 3D printers on campus, or have others been purchased one by one?
Others will be purchases and deployed throughout the campus on an annual basis as well as with our College-in-the-high-school partners.

PART II

As we mentioned on our blog fairly recently, two universities have signed up to become MakerBot Starter Lab locations. The two schools are based in NY state, SUNY Cobleskill in Cobleskill, NY, and Union College, in Schenectady, NY. We reached out to both campuses to gain insight as to why each wanted to become a MakerBot StarterLab. This second set of responses comes from Dr. John Rieffel, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Union College. The interview was conducted via email, and the transcript is here below.

1) What prompted you to look into establishing a MakerBot 3D Starter Lab in your campus? Had anyone among the staff and faculty including yourself had experience with other 3D printers or 3D design?
We've been using 3D printing for quite awhile, and various departments (Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, and Visual Arts) already had a handful of Makerbots. What really jump-started a interest in the technology was an interdisciplinary NSF grant we received last year, which allowed us to acquire a Stratasys Objet Connex500. We've used the Objet to invigorate research throughout campus by print everything from soft robots to grasshopper saddles.

We invited Makerbot CEO (and Union Alum) Jenny Lawton to give a talk on campus shortly afterward, and she was really excited about our ambition of integrating 3D printing and Maker Culture into all of the liberal arts, not just STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields. We couldn't have launched this Starter Lab without Jenny's help.

2) What types of reactions have you had across campus since it was announced?
Everyone has been excited—you'd be amazed at how many 3D printing projects come out of the woodwork as soon as you make the technology available. Our lab has helped Bioengineering students develop improved feeding tubes and assistive devices, allowed math majors to model complex geometries, enabled some fantastic sculpture work from visual art students—we even printed cookie cutters for Alumni Relations!

3) What has been done to promote its existence and technology? Have you begun any cross-campus partnerships since its inception both on campus or out in the community?
As indicated by the variety of projects I just described, from day one we've strived to include the entire campus community in our Starter Lab. Makerspaces are typically very STEM-oriented, yet the idea of "making" is really interdisciplinary (some might argue that the Visual Arts have been promoting Makerspaces much longer than engineering has!). As a liberal arts college with an engineering program, we're uniquely poised to bridge the gap between the two cultures.

4) Who all is able to take advantage of having this type of resource on campus? Is it limited to students taking courses or pursuing degrees in computer science or related fields like engineering?
For the time being, any campus member with an academic or research project can receive training on the printers and use our materials. We're working with the administration to find ways to open it up to students with non-curricular creative projects as well. There's a huge demand for 3D printing across our campus.

5) What impact do you think it has had on the education of your students? Does it give your students a competitive edge over those from other schools?
It absolutely helps set us apart. The Starter Lab is staffed by a group of 15 students (recruited from across campus - not just engineers, but also visual artists, economists and philosophers), who are all paid to maintain the space and equipment, train new users, and act as design consultants for anyone who walks into the space. Any student using the space becomes empowered as a designer and creative individual, and develops an impressive amount of hand-on expertise. This skills are very much in demand among employers today.

6) How long has the Starter Lab actually been up, running, and in use? I see from your website that seniors do a final design project. Are any of them this year using the Starter Lab for their work/research?
We've had the equipment since the new year, and have had a "soft rollout" into a few classes, as we ramp up our expertise and work out the kinks. We'll be increasingly active in the spring term, and by the fall semester we'll be fully operational.

7) What have been the biggest challenges presented and how have they been overcome or handled? What have been the biggest surprises, if any?
One big challenge is simply learning how to get perfect prints out of the Makerbots. The recent firmware updates have helped quite a bit, but we're constantly learning how to tweak settings to optimize prints. Makerbot Support has been very helpful in this regard. The biggest challenge, I think, is finding ways to keep up our supply of filament! The biggest surprises have come from seeing the amazing types of creativity which have been unleashed by this project.

8) What advice, if any, would you give to another professor or business who is interested in establishing a Starter Lab on their campus or a place of business?
Begin by building a network of potential users across the campus—and cast as wide a net as possible! As soon as you can tell a convincing story about how many people will be positively affected by the capabilities of a Starter Lab, then all other obstacles (space, funding, etc) become easier to tackle..

9) What are some of the long-term goals of your department as it relates to both 3D printing and education in general?
We really want to push creativity and innovation into the entire curriculum, and encourage professors throughout the campus to incorporate 3d printing (and more broadly rapid prototyping) into their classes.

10) What materials/filament are you printing with, and what are some of the products you have printed that you are most proud of so far?
When possible, we've been buying XXL spools of Makerbot filament, and we can consume quite a bit of it! A recent project took up almost half of a 10 lb roll!

I think the project I'm most proud of is the work of Caroline Brustowicz, a Visual Arts/Computer Science Interdisciplinary Major. Caroline has been collaborating with Fashion4Freedom (F4F), a social enterprise organization devoted to cultural preservation in Central Vietnam. F4F has found a way for local artisans to use their woodcarving skills to produce high-fashion carved wooden shoes. Caroline has been working with F4F to start a conversation comparing 3D printing to wood carving. She has scanned a carved shoe with a FARO scanning arm, and has been printing replicas on our Makerbot Replicator. Caroline was recently picked as a Union College Minerva Fellow, which means that upon graduation she gets to spend a year in Vietnam working directly with F4F.