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Makerspace: Cross-Disciplinary Innovation

SparkFun women

Something extraordinary is brewing in quite an ordinary little building tucked under hillside trees and off the beaten path in one of the farthermost corners of Stetson University’s DeLand campus.

Ideas become reality in this secluded place.

There’s no wizardry involved. Just tinkerers, inventors, innovators and fabricators. Among others. These are makers, do-it-yourselfers with a heavy dash of electronics, computer aided machines and robotics, creating connections between neuro and cyber and physical spaces.

The old red brick garage behind the Gillespie Museum has been turned into a workshop of power tools, electronic tools, old-fashioned hand tools and cutting edge equipment. Innovation House opened in September as a “makerspace” for students, faculty, staff and alumni to meet, work and learn from one another.

Computer science majors Katie Portfield of Atlanta, and Melissa Abramson of Deltona, pictured left, work with circuit boards, sensors, motors and microprocessors during an October workshop hosted by Innovation House.

“Innovation House is a loose collection of like-minded people,” said Dr. William Ball, visiting professor of political science. He has a lifelong interest in tools and fabrication and is getting the workshop up and running. The group isn’t part of any department or program.

SparkFun with BillBallTwo 3D printers are in the workshop, as well as a computer controlled router, a vacuum forming machine, table saw, drill press, Dremel, various cordless power tools, pliers, saws and hammers for working metal and wood. Heat guns, wires, soldering gear, multimeters, computers, microcontrollers, modules, and “many castoff robots,” says Ball, pictured left, who teaches members to use the tools safely.

“It is truly a new, unique addition to campus,” said junior Mark Burton, a computer science and digital arts major.

Burton is president of Stetson’s chapter of the Association of Computing Machinery, the organization providing space and encouragement to Innovation House. Startup money for tools and equipment came from the School of Business Administration’s Prince Entrepreneurship Program.

“Innovation House is in its infancy now, but it’ll be the birthplace of many interesting projects,” said Burton, a native of New York City.

“It’s very liberating to know that if something doesn’t exist you can make it yourself,” said Katie Moore, a senior from Mims majoring in computer science and digital arts. “Not every gadget has to come from a big corporation with an engineering team and a factory.”

Moore is one of about 40 people, mostly students, who have joined Innovation House. She wants to build a unique “gaming chair” as a controller for an immersive video game as part of her senior research. Without the tools in Innovation House, she’s not sure how or where she would build the chair.

“It’s really great to have a place to work on larger projects with physical components to them,” she said.

“We hope it spurs students to be innovative and entrepreneurial in a broad sense,” said Ball, “and initiate collaboration and innovative thinking that will be picked up and reflected in the formal curriculum.” The workshop community cuts across all disciplines.

Nationwide, there has been a resurgence of interest in making things and bringing ideas to life. It has spawned events like maker faires, barcamps and hackerspaces where people share knowledge, skills and creations.

Innovation House organized a Stetson booth at the recent Maker Faire Orlando and plans to participate in Barcamp DeLand in November. In October, it hosted a SparkFun Electronics training session in making microchips read sensors, control motors, and create devices. Twenty “inventors kits” were given to Innovation House by SparkFun.

The seeds of Innovation House were sown by Dr. Thomas Schwarz, business dean, whose entrepreneurship initiative stirred Ball to volunteer his time and expertise to start a makerspace. Students were interested, but didn’t have tools and facilities.

“I took up the idea and worked with Dean Schwarz to bring it to fruition. He guided, encouraged, supervised and found startup funds for the effort,” said Ball. Members help manage the space and have 24/7 access.

Ball hopes Innovation House will make its users “comfortable creating cross-disciplinary teams and using contemporary technology to bring their ideas for innovative projects into reality.”

To learn more about Innovation House, email Dr. William Ball at wball@stetson.edu or visit his blog.

by Ronald Williamson