Article by Emilynne Newsom, photos by Mikayla Mann and Amy Zhong
The Scott A. McGregor Computer Science Center sits on the westmost end of Harvey Mudd’s campus, at the intersection between North Dartmouth Avenue and Platt Boulevard. If you’re looking for it, the easiest way to find it is to walk all the way down Ac End and turn left—if you see thick stairs, glass walls, and triangle-shaped benches, you’ve arrived at the courtyard. Entrances on either side of the building lead into the second floor. On the left side, you can find the pair programming labs, where computer science classes like CS 131, CS 60, and CS 5 Lab are held. This is also where you can find grutoring sessions, where students that have already taken a CS class are available to help other students currently taking the class. On the right, you’ll find CS Clinic rooms.
Further into the building, you’ll find a set of bright red stairs, which go down to the first floor and up to the third. If you’re looking for a CS professor, you’ll want to head up to the third floor, where their offices are located. Or, if you’re looking for a space to work on particularly tricky p-sets, there are two open study spaces with chairs and whiteboards there as well. On the third floor, you can also find a conference room and the Worster Research Lab. Two bridges cross over the courtyard for easy access between both sides of the building.
Finally, if you head downstairs to the first floor, you’ll see the lounge to your left, and the new Makerspace to your right. If you’re interested in creating something, the Makerspace is the place for you: opposite the stairs is the checkout room, where you can check out different tools and supplies by talking to the Makerspace stewards, who are students from the 5Cs. The checkout room holds fabric, sewing machines, drills, and many more tools, which can be used for any personal or school projects. Beside the stairs is the 3D printing and laser cutting room and a hallway that leads to the AV studio, where people can record podcasts or film videos. The tables in the center of the open workspace can be used to work on homework, projects, and much more. Beyond the tables is the welding space, the soldering station, and a door that leads outside, where the spray painting room is on your left.
Since the Makerspace is one of HMC’s newest projects, Mudd’s vision for the space is still being shaped. See what Jeff Groves, a professor of humanities at Mudd and the inaugural director of the Makerspace, has to say about the Makerspace and where it’s going.
Q&A: Explore the Makerspace with Prof. Groves
Q: Tell us about yourself and your role in the Makerspace.
A: My name is Jeff Groves, I’m a professor of literature at the college and have been for 34 years. I have served in lots of administrative positions, including Dean of the Faculty for five years, and I am now serving as the inaugural director of the Makerspace, which is the most fun assignment that I’ve had. I’m responsible for generally overseeing the space, working with the Makerspace manager, working with the stewards to make sure everything is moving forward and, most importantly, working with advancement to raise money for the Makerspace. We’re trying to endow much of our operation, so we’re actively raising money from outside organizations, from alums, friends of the college, that kind of thing.
Q: What does it mean to endow a space?
A: Well, it would endow our budget. What we would like to be able to do is to endow, for instance, the amount of money that we will need to pay student wages every year. Student wages are always going to be one of our most expensive budget lines, because right now we have about 38 stewards, but that number will probably only increase. We may have more than 50 at some point, and over the course of the year, those wages add up to around $70,000. So, we’d like to endow that, and have already started doing that — we have some endowment money for student wages — so we don’t have to pull from other parts of the institution to fund the Makerspace.
Q: Why did you want to be inaugural director of the Makerspace?
A: I was asked by the Dean if I would consider doing it, and it took me about two seconds to decide. I am a maker myself — I like to do woodworking, I have built a letterpress printing shop down at the library, where I teach students how to print, my parents owned a welding shop, I get great pleasure being out in my garage working on things. And so, trying to figure out how I could support the pleasure that I know other people get out of making was what really made me want to be the Makerspace director.
Q: How would you describe your role as director of the Makerspace?
A: I started in the summer of 2020, before the building was finished. My main role through the first nine months or so of my tenure were primarily advancement, really trying to raise money for the Makerspace. And then working with Drew Price, the shop manager, who was for a short period of time also the interim Makerspace manager, to hire our first summer stewards, who would start in summer 2021, and throughout the spring of 2021, really preparing for them to get here, beginning to buy some of the equipment, like that big waterjet cutter that you can see sitting in [the 3D printing room] and getting that into place, working with the person at the college who was coordinating the construction of the building to make sure that we had what we needed in terms of event construction and ample storage space. Last summer, I worked closely with the stewards for the first five weeks. We had six summer stewards, and they were building policies for the Makerspace, and I was very involved in that.
Q: What do the policies for the Makerspace look like? How do you envision this place being run, and what do you want the Makerspace to be?
A: What I want the Makerspace to be is a student-run and evolving organization. I want it to look different in 10 years than it looks now, because student interests are going to change. Students are going to want different things, new kinds of equipment, new kinds of tooling. And that’s something that I want the Makerspace administration and the Makerspace stewards to be very sensitive to, so that we can build a place that is constantly evolving. There’s nothing here that’s static at the moment, so everything could shift and change.
It’s also really important to me that this be a student-centered organization. There’s a fairly large literature about makerspaces, and in the literature, there’s a lot of discussion about how you make a student-centered Makerspace, a student-run Makerspace work, and the key aspect of that, the studies seem to suggest, is to create community, and to build a team of student leaders who can then work with other people to build that community in the makerspace itself. So, it’s not unlike what the Hive has done very successfully, just down the street at Pomona. They have built a really vibrant community over the six years or so that they’ve been in place, and we hope to do the same thing. But that can’t be a top-down thing where the faculty or the administration says, “Build a community.” It needs to be something that evolves organically out of the students who maintain this space.
Q: How do you handle being both a professor and director of the Makerspace?
A: I get a one-course teaching release for being Makerspace director, which is really necessary, but beyond that, I teach my regular load. So this semester, I’m teaching a poetry class, but I’m also teaching my printing workshop. The printing workshop is very much a making space anyway, so it contributes to the sense that I’m participating in making.
Q: What are you most excited about when it comes to the Makerspace?
A: I’m excited about the kinds of reactions. Before we had any of the tooling out, when this was just an open space with some furniture in it, when I brought the summer stewards for the first time, there was just this kind of, “Oh my God, this is going to be so great.” That excitement on the part of students is what excites me. I want this to be a place that students want to be in at all times of the day. This should be one of the most popular spots on campus — people should be hanging out here, they should be making here, they should be doing their homework here. It’s a place for the Harvey Mudd community of makers. It’s a place where they can see what each other are doing.
[In the Makerspace, there’s] a shelf full of a bunch of rockets that belong to MARC, the rocketry club. When they’re in here working on their rockets, it’s a great way to advertise the club to other people who are passing through, rather than working on them in some confined space. If you look at Professor Harris’s airplane that he’s building here, what a great way to advertise that opportunity for students, right? To have it just out in a shared space, where people can watch what other people are doing and get a sense of what the project is all about. So I think those things are going to be really, really amazing. So, just that sort of thing I think will be kind of infectious, in the student body. I shouldn’t use that metaphor right now, given COVID. But too late, it’s recorded.
Q: What can Mudders look forward to at the Makerspace?
A: We are still getting up and running. We have already got the 3D printing room, which contains laser printers and waterjet cutters and 3D printers and so on —that’s up and running. We have a lot of tooling in the lock-up cage — that is up and running — including sewing machines that have already been very active this semester, embroidery machines and so on. A little later in the fall, we’ll get the welding station going, so students who want to learn how to weld will be able to do that. We’ve got a spray paint booth outside around the corner, that I think is going to be really busy once people get trained to use it. The only real barrier — and it’s not a very large one — to using any of this stuff is that you need to register with the Makerspace, and you need to pass safety tests to use equipment where that’s a necessary thing, like the welders and the spray paint booth. But the safety quizzes are very straightforward, and it doesn’t take very long at all to learn what you need to know to actually work in these spaces.
Q: Where would you find the safety quizzes for the Makerspace, and who would you contact about them?
A: You can walk right in here and you can use one of the QR codes [to find the safety quizzes]. You can contact one of the stewards, and they will help you figure out how to do that. The stewards are in here from 1 p.m. until 11 p.m. on most days, and the hours are posted online. The stewards are here to help people gain access to the space and access to the equipment, so we encourage people to take the safety test whenever they’re ready.
Q: Any last things you want to add?
A: One thing I would highlight, that I think is really important and very cool, is that you can now see the student shops right through the door of the Makerspace. They weren’t there before last summer. So what we have now is one contiguous making space that is going to be very creative, between the woodshop, the machine shop, and the equipment in this space. We also see in the future a lot of collaboration with the Hive down at Pomona, and that will bring their specialty in design into what we do here. So I think the entity that develops out of this is going to be bigger than just the Makerspace. It’s going to be a way of thinking about making across the Claremont Consortium that we really haven’t had in the past.