Mount Holyoke College opened the doors to its freshly renovated Fimbel Maker & Innovation Lab in January 2019, located in a former dining hall and consisting of a metal and wood shop along with 3d printers, laser cutters, electronics, textiles, and more. As a liberal arts women’s college that affirms gender diversity, our students are not the typical users of such a space, presenting a challenge that offers many opportunities to demystify technology and empower students who might otherwise avoid engaging.
An interdisciplinary team of faculty and staff deliberately designed a space that would appeal to the novice user (e.g. natural light, limited noise, clear layout and organization) and better fit the average smaller body size of our typical student (e.g. lower workbenches, smaller gripped or lighter weight tools when available, power cords within reach, frequently used tools on lower shelves). After hours work is assisted by our student workers, who are trained in inclusive practices through required coursework, and serve as role models for novice users. We strive to have our student workers reflect the diversity of our student body.
We use two primary methods to draw in users who are not already inclined towards exploring the space through academic or personal projects. First, our student workers regularly hold workshops designed to appeal to a broad range of interests, for example the popular “chocolate lab” that teaches 3D modelling to create custom chocolate molds, along with the material science of tempering chocolate. Second, we look to the creativity of our faculty to bring their classes to the space for one (or more) individual lessons tailored to the coursework, with hands-on engagement having the potential to enhance pedagogy in any field.