Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The University of Iowa College of Engineering has renewed its commitment to the national Maker Movement.

Last Friday, the National Week of Making (June 17-23) kicked off. Higher education institutions around the US, including the UI College of Engineering, responded to President Obama’s call to action to have “every company, every college, every community, every citizen join us as we lift up makers and builders and doers across the country.” 78 colleges and universities in 32 states representing more than 1.1 million students have committed to take new actions in support of the maker movement on their campuses and in their communities.

The college also joined other universities and colleges to show their support through a joint letter to the White House.

“The College of Engineering already has a proud heritage of creating and participating in programs and projects that encourage bright, adventurous student Makers," Alec Scranton, College of Engineering dean, said.  "For years, we have encouraged our students to become ‘the engineer…and something more’ – not only concentrating on the rigorous studies of engineering and technology, but stretching themselves into teamwork, entrepreneurship, global awareness, technical communication, leadership, and even becoming the creative engineer with ties to the Arts.”

The College of Engineering has already taken several steps to promote Making in Iowa, including:

  • Allowing students who are applying for admission to the College of Engineering to submit a Maker portfolio at that time.  The college is asking future students to include the information in their scholarship application process.  The college has a high percentage of students who both apply for and receive scholarships, “so this is an excellent approach to encourage the Maker community as they begin their collegiate experience,” Scranton said.
  • Supporting education, outreach, and service learning that is relevant to Making.   This includes encouraging students to serve as mentors for young Makers.  For example, many current Engineering students are deeply involved in two major STEM programs.  The College of Engineering is an Affiliate Partner in the national FIRST Tech Challenge program and co-leads the Project Lead the Way efforts for the state of Iowa.  Both programs have been recognized for their STEM efforts from grade school through high school.
  • Encouraging students to use their senior design projects to experiment with Making and Maker-preneurship.  For years, every department at the College of Engineering has conducted senior capstone design projects as a requirement for graduation.  About 20 years ago, this was expanded to include the Program for Enhanced Design Experience, involving senior engineering students who work with engineers from industry on a design project for an entire year. The goal is for students to gain experience in the design process from conceptualization, to prototyping, testing and evaluation, and finally production. Students gain first hand experience in solid modeling, finite element analysis, dynamic simulation, and cost analysis. Emphasis is placed on communication skills, including written reports and oral presentations. 
  • Providing scholarships to students based upon excellence in Making.  “Better than one out of five students in the College of Engineering receives a scholarship.  In addition, the College often awards scholarships at local and state STEM events involving grade school and high school students,” Scranton added.
  • Engaging the Arts is the college's latest Maker initiative with The Nexus of Engineering and the Arts. The Engineering profession is an inherently creative endeavor in which engineers design and create new products, processes, or devices that solve problems in society and enhance the quality of life for humankind. When engineers and artists work together they can achieve especially impressive outcomes. Engineers bring an understanding of the physical world and the conditions and "constraints" placed by the laws of nature, while artists bring a creative vision of beauty that can enhance any project. It is the power of the collaboration between artists and engineers that has led us to create the Virginia A. Myers NEXUS of Engineering and the Arts at the University of Iowa. The NEXUS is not simply a place where a few artists and engineers hang out.  Instead, it is a creative challenge for art and engineering students and faculty to achieve great outcomes collaborating with one another.  The UI College of Engineering is forging into uncharted territory with its commitment to include the arts as a component of its undergraduate education. In May 2015, college faculty approved a general education requirement that all new undergraduate students take at least three semester hours in the creative arts.  The college is also creating a Project Design Studio -- a unique hands-on “Maker” classroom unlike any other on campus. It is part of a $37 million addition to accommodate growing enrollment.

“The College of Engineering is working to develop even more steps that will support our commitment to Making," Scranton added.  “We appreciate the national leadership at the White House toward advancing U.S. research and education, and we look forward to working with the administration to provide long-term success to the Making effort,” he said.

Scranton noted that America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. In recent years, a growing number of Americans have gained access to technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software, and desktop machine tools. The tools are enabling more Americans to design and build almost anything.

“The rise of the Maker Movement represents a significant opportunity for the United States, Iowa, and the University of Iowa,” Scranton said.  “Nationwide, new tools for democratized production are boosting innovation and entrepreneurship in manufacturing, in the same way that the Internet and cloud computing have lowered the barriers to entry for digital startups, creating the foundation for new products and processes that can help to revitalize American manufacturing."