The Maker Lab (ML) is a hands-on, interdisciplinary prototyping space for creative exploration and fabrication. It is open to the entire Santa Clara community (students, faculty, staff, etc.) and supports work on course projects/labs, research and capstone projects, extracurricular activities with clubs and through design challenges, group exercises, personal projects, and so on. The lab has a broad array of typical hand and power tools as well as a variety of "maker-style" machines such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and small-scale CNC machines.
The ML supports hands-on prototyping activities for students working on class/laboratory exercises, on research/capstone/industry-
sponsored projects, on extracurricular activities involving clubs, and for personal projects. Some of the organized activities that complement such work include:
- Annual Maker Product Challenge: Each year (except during pandemic shutdowns), the ML hosts an extensive extra-curricular design challenge in which teams of students conceive, design, fabricate and sell 20+ items for a specific client. Examples have included promotional items for the School's 100th year anniversary, alumni events, etc. These challenges typically draw 15-20 team entries involving 70 or more students. Top teams often receive prizes of several thousand dollars as well as a potential offer to produce their product in quantities of hundreds to be used for actual events.
- Specialty Classes: The ML periodically offers special training sessions on how to make specific items, such as holiday ornaments, greeting cards, etc. These are fun hands-on events that result in creating a self-made item and which serve as inviting paths to increasing one's use of the lab. Additionally, some sessions/workshops affiliated with the School's broader innovation program may also be offered in the ML.
In addition, several externally-facing programs exist, each funded through external support:
- Osher Life Long Institute (OLLI) Courses: SCU hosts one of the largest of the 120+ OLLI programs in the country. Funded through the Osher Institute, OLLI serves a large community of learners that are 50 years or more of age. The ML offers several OLLI classes to teach the basics of making and to provide support for personal projects.
- K-12 Education and Community Outreach: The ML supports hands-on making activities at local schools and community events through the use of its 24 ft Mobile Maker Lab. This Lab includes various hand/power tools, several 3D printers and a laser cutter. ML staff and volunteers work with local teachers to offer engaging maker education activities using this facility.
- Industry Collaboration Program: The ML has a program to provide fabrication services with collaborating industrial partners and to allow joint fabrication activities between students and industry engineers.
And, we always have new ideas up our sleeves, Initiatives currently in development include:
- SCU Alumni Program: ML are currently developing a program that will allow SCU alumni to use ML resources as a way to support their continuing interests in making, to strengthen their ties to the university, and to stimulate interaction and mentoring opportunities with current students. We hope to launch this program in 2023.
- Maker Lab Badging Systems: ML training is already based on completing various "modules" that cover safety and operational topics relating to the use of various tools and machines. We are currently working on developing extended collections of these educational modules in order to offer co-curricular 'badges' in various topics, such as additive manufacturing, etc.
- Team-Building Activities: Making is fun and collaborative and an excellent activity for promoting team camaraderie. We have several team building concepts under consideration, and we hope to offer some of these programs beginning in 2023.
The ML and its affiliated educational programs were started in 2010 as part of the School's Technical Innovation interdisciplinary program, funded through the Kern Family Foundation and linked to the School's participation in the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN). The Lab was established to run independently from any one engineering department in order to ensure an interdisciplinary approach and streamlined operation. Indeed, one of the primary motivations for starting the Lab was as a means of overcoming challenges such as departments not permitting students from other departments to work in their laboratories, locking down equipment configurations for specific lab exercises, and so on.
The Lab originally consisted of approximately 200 sq ft in a larger room that was shared with the Frugal Innovation Hub and which was in the Bannan Engineering Lab building (which was one of the four buildings that have been replaced by the SCDI facility). As a proof of concept for having this type of facility, this early version of the ML was a success. Annual use of the lab grew to having more than 400 trained users and supporting more than 5 courses, 15 senior capstone projects, and 5 funded research programs.
As part of a School expansion in 2013, the ML was moved to a 1,500 sq ft facility on the 3rd floor of Guadalupe Hall. This was a custom-designed, dedicated facility with an industrial design, proper ventilation and dust collection for machines, and working table space to support exercises for entire lab sessions. During this time, several affiliated educational programs were established for adult education, industry partnerships, and K-12 education. Annual use of the lab grew to having more than 1800 trained users and supporting more than 15 courses, 25 senior capstone projects, and 10 funded research programs.
With the opening of the Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation (SCDI), the ML moved to two new locations. The first is a 3,000 sq ft premier space on the first floor of the SCDI building, adjacent to the building's courtyard. This space is used for most ML activities in terms of general student use, support of projects/courses, etc. The second location is a 1,500 sq ft facility in "The Garage" at 3305 Alameda. This is a more industrial space with several more advanced maker machines and which is currently used to support research and externally sponsored projects.
For the first 8 years of its existence, the ML was supported primarily through external grants, to include funding for a staff member, all equipment/tools, and many of the consumable materials; the exception to this was the School's support of Teaching Assistants, beginning in the Lab's 5th year. Currently, the School supports a staff Lab Manager, Teaching Assistants and a portion of the budget required for equipment and supplies; grants support the balance of funds used for additional staff and student support, new equipment, some supplies, and the Lab's externally-facing programs. Historically, significant external financial support for the ML and its programs have come from the Kern Family Foundation, the Koret Foundation, the Ciocca Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and a number of grants through the Robotic Systems Laboratory.
Reference on SCU's ML Program: A 2017 ASEE paper describes the creation and activities of our ML during its initial years of creation and growth.