The Champlain College Maker Lab. What? Why?

By Ken Howell, Assistant Professor

(Photo: Michael Taranto, Game Design ’14 and Chris Thompson, MFA in Emergent Media ’14 candidate and adjunct faculty member, set up a display on campus earlier this semester demonstrating constellation LED t-shirts and die-cut vinyl stickers. Photo by Steve Mease.)

The Champlain College Maker Lab is set to open in early 2014 as part of the Emergent Media Center’s expansion at the Miller Center building on Lakeside Avenue in Burlington.

What is a maker lab you may ask? A maker lab or ‘makerspace’, as they’re sometimes called, is a place where people share tools to make almost anything.  That’s the simple answer. In practice, they are spaces where people from across disciplines evolve ideas and collaborate on projects at the intersection of art, technology and entrepreneurship.

The Maker culture, which has been described as the DIY culture jacked up on coffee, comes out of a rich tradition that includes kit culture, the home hobbyist movement of the 60’s and 70’s, and even the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. All of these sought to create an antidote for industrialization and runaway consumerism. The Makers are interested in inventing, making, re-using, recycling, modifying or hacking their own whatever.  In other words, taking back control of their consumerism. Of course, a consequence of this practice is that these spaces become incubators for innovation and creativity.

At the core of these spaces you find really cool tools. 3D printers, for example, have made it possible for young entrepreneurs to bypass traditional manufacturing hurdles altogether and bring products to market quickly and at virtually any scale. With 3D printing you can even make unique versions of your product for every customer.

Meanwhile, Arduinos, electronics, sensors and the incredible new interaction models they afford, will allow students from across disciplines to contemplate and explore how ubiquitous computing and smart everything will continue to change every aspect of how we work, play, learn, and connect with our communities.

At the Champlain College Maker Lab our students and alumni will have access to 3D printers and scanners, laser cutters, computer controlled milling machines, electronics and microcontrollers, but we’ll also have on hand plenty of traditional tools and materials, from clay to sewing. And, thanks to a partnership with Generator, a makerspace opening up in downtown Burlington, they’ll have access to even more tools.

It’s an exciting time. I can’t wait to see what our students make.  I urge you come down (well, maybe after the dust settles) and practice what IDEO design-thinking pioneer Tim Brown called, “thinking with your hands.”

Please stay tuned for updates as our build-out and fund-raising continue. For more information on how to get involved contact:
Ken Howell, Assistant Professor, Division of Communication & Creative Media


KenHowell100x133Ken Howell is an Assistant Professor in the MFA in Emergent Media program, an artist, and a faculty lead at the Emergent Media Center where he works on a variety of projects. Lately he’s been busy helping to build the Maker movement in Vermont where he has been an organizer with the Maker Faire, working on a Makerspace here at Champlain College, building the Vermont Makers community, and helping Generator, a Makerspace opening early 2014 in Burlington. (full bio)