Dale Doughtery is said to be the godfather of the maker movement after founding “Make Magazine” and the first Maker Faire in 2006. The maker movement expands do-it-yourself culture by encompassing technology, coding, 3D printing and prototyping products that propel entrepreneurship. It encourages people to think differently about having a “throwaway mentality,” as they pick up skills and learn most objects can be repaired or repurposed. The movement has blossomed into maker workshops, Maker Faires and makerspaces, like the one on the University of Central Arkansas’ campus in Donaghey Hall.
The UCA Makerspace, powered by the Conductor, is a public-private partnership between Startup Junkie Consulting and UCA. At no cost, students, faculty, staff and community members receive access to a multitude of machines and technology to learn, create and become a part of the maker movement.
To keep the movement thriving, makers must have access to resources like equipment, space, experts and collaborators. At the UCA Makerspace, makers can use anything from carpenter tools, sewing machines and an embroidery machine to more advanced technology like laser engravers, 3D printers and stereolithography (SLA) printers. (SLA printers use liquid resin and a powerful laser to 3D print objects.) The space also has computer numerically controlled – or CNC – machines which are able to process material quickly and efficiently.
In addition to equipment, community members can access the expertise of the UCA Makerspace team. Master Maker Jason Huselton ’96 and other maker fellows spend their days teaching people how to use the equipment and tools. They create an environment for makers to meet and collaborate. Amateurs, professionals and even those who do not yet identify as makers, can walk into the space and jump right into creating.
Subject matter experts come into the Makerspace to host webinars, workshops and demos. Clients can learn how to program with Arduino microcontrollers (which are used to build digital devices), or how to use an oscilloscope, cast in resin, make paper and much more.
“We have a unique opportunity to serve the community and provide no-cost resources,” Huselton said. “We want the space to be a place for anyone to feel welcome, to learn something new and to make their vision come to life with their own hands.”
The Conductor has a mission of empowering makers and entrepreneurs, and the UCA Makerspace has a top-of-funnel approach to supporting and bolstering entrepreneurs and small businesses. Members of the maker movement come from a variety of backgrounds ranging from hobbyists to experts or someone who is just getting started. Anyone can bring a product idea or invention into the Makerspace and work with the staff to develop a prototype and receive guidance on next steps.
The Makerspace has been home to many new innovations and business start-ups. Former Conway resident Jessica Jones prototyped a new product called Zipper Genie which helps women zip their own dresses. She then secured a patent to protect her idea. Matthew Pearson ’11, ’20 received a patent for an invention he protyped called Rollie Pollie, a clamping device used to fasten IV poles to hospital beds, stretchers and other patient transportation devices.
The Makerspace can serve as a cost-effective way to support entrepreneurs and promote their businesses. The laser engravers can be used to create signage or add logos to products.
The embroidery machine can be used to brand staff uniforms, and other machines can be used to create products to stock shelves or start an Etsy store.
Another central tenet to the maker movement is collaboration across disciplines, age groups and skill levels. A designated group of maker mentors frequent the space and serve as collaborators. The mentors have backgrounds in various fields including art, electrical engineering, physics and ccoding, and they provide their expertise to Makerspace clients.
Justin Rowan ’11 participated as a mentor since 2017 and was also a regular Makerspace client. In 2019, Rowan and his wife Jessica (Stonesifer) Rowan ’13 launched their own maker-centered business called Valley Meadows Workshop in Greenbrier. Valley Meadows uses many of the same types of tools found in the Makerspace and creates custom woodworking, personalized decor and handcrafted gifts.
The maker movement and spirit of collaboration can also be found in the classroom. Conway Public Schools educators Sharon Cone ’09 and Anita Reynolds ’96 serve as maker educators in the UCA Makerspace to bring STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) education to children and introduce them to the world of making. Cone and Reynolds host Youth Maker Mondays, STEAM camps and other outreach events.
“STEAM education is more than math and science skills,” Reynolds said. “STEAM also has a focus on hands-on learning and creativity. It teaches skills like empathy, critical thinking and problem solving while allowing students to explore and create on their own.”
At the Makerspace, young makers take in concepts of coding and robotics, oftentimes without even realizing they are learning new skills. Casie Sachse ’09, an educator and homeschooling mother, finds value in the Makerspace and its programs for children. She takes her daughters, Mallory, 10 and Tessa, 8, to Youth Maker Mondays. Last summer, they attended a STEAM camp.
“I feel fortunate to live in the same town as the Conductor and UCA Makerspace,” Sachse said. “It provides opportunities for my daughters to explore their interests in science, engineering, technology and the arts, while enriching their education. Plus, the fact it is free and easily accessible truly makes it a prized resource to our community.”
Maker collaboration expands across the UCA campus as it is used by students from all the colleges to finish projects or decompress from class. Art students can add to and enhance their portfolios; film students can create backdrops or costumes; and occupational therapy students can prototype medical devices for their patients.
The Makerspace is also a place for creative collisions: a computer science student can collaborate with a business student on a new app idea, or a physics student can collaborate with an exercise science student to calculate the correct angle or velocity on an innovative piece of training equipment.
Overall, the maker movement is a social movement that can provide everything from a creative outlet to a new business venture. Makers are not defined by age, skillset, discipline or background, but rather their intent to recycle, innovate, create and collaborate. There are new opportunities every day.