OWHL’s Makerspace To Foster Innovation In Andover Community

Lined with glass windows and floored with fresh wooden panels, the new Makerspace, located in the basement of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library (OWHL), offers an innovative take on the student learning experience.

Built over the summer by members of the Office of the Physical Plant (OPP), the Makerspace is open to the entire Andover community and features a 3-D printer, a sewing machine, a laser cutter and a vinyl cutter.

“[The Makerspace is a] lean, flexible and informal space, bringing together different people of different backgrounds and skill sets to solve problems, discuss ideas and develop skills,” said Michael Barker, Director of OWHL, in a Tang Institute presentation on Tuesday.

Barker said that the goal is for students to pioneer the use of the Makerspace on their own. To achieve this, Barker is working with several students to promote the use of the Makerspace.

“Success for me would be this: a kid has an idea, they go to the space and with the tools they need, they figure out [a solution] which could help them grow and cultivate that idea… Then they would share it with the world,” said Barker.

Darius Lam ’17, John Koobatian ’17 and Alex Davenport ’17 have been helping to publicize the space and sharing their input on the process.
“I am in charge of getting people to come to the Makerspace, getting people to use the tools that are available in the Makerspace, [teaching students] how to use [the tools] and just facilitating the activities that go on there,” said Lam.

“From my perspective, the mission of the Makerspace is to serve as a way for students to come up with new ideas and as a way for students to complete those ideas,” continued Lam.

The Techmasters, a club on campus, has offered to help students who are interested in utilizing the Makerspace. Techmasters have also created an app that will allow students using the space to ask for help using the Makerspace equipment.

The planning of the space started in April, after Barker and select students interested in the project did some research. Barker discussed the idea of the Makerspace with the Big Ideas club, the Robotics club and the Makers club, among others.

“We asked a ton of questions about how these spaces worked, how kids particularly use them and learn from them and most importantly, how do you grow this space? What’s really interesting about it?” said Barker during the Tang Institute presentation.

When constructing the space, Barker focused on preserving simplicity.

“[We installed] simple equipment to get started for now, but I hope that the kids will tell me what they want to build and I will use some of the fund given to start that project,” said Barker.

Barker also said that he hopes the space will prove to be essential when teaching students about design-thinking.

“Design-thinking, in a nutshell, is a highly empathetic process to innovate. It’s built off the idea that ‘I can’t build a product that you like unless I really know who you are, and I really know how you think and operate,’” said Barker.

The Makerspace can be used for a range of purposes. Barker has planned for the space to be involved in faculty classes, clubs, student independent projects, clubs, organizations, weekend workshops and other outreach events.

“[Some people] don’t think they can be creative with technology because they don’t have the experience. The Makerspace is supposed to show them that you can be creative; you can do these projects without any past experience,” said Lam.

The Makerspace was funded by the Alexander family, who approached Barker with a fund to go toward any space inside the OWHL.

Though the Makerspace is a recent addition to the Andover campus, there have previously been places on campus designed for use by the entire Andover community and similarly dedicated to design and innovation. Barker said that there is currently a Makerspace in Tang Theatre that is used for school productions.

“I think [the Makerspace] is a great way for kids to learn. I think it’s a great tool faculty can use to pair what they use…in the classroom. It’s at their disposal, so I think it’s got a lot of benefits [for] teaching and learning,” said Barker.

Barker plans on celebrating the launch of the Makerspace with a party available to the community and led by student-run clubs.