Working for the Interdisciplinary Design Commons
Creating a makerspace for everyone
As the Director of Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Design Commons, I help oversee 80+ volunteers and make sure that the 250+ students that go through our space every day feel supported and welcome in this community of practice. We collaborate with minority organizations, women's groups, and school faculty to make sure that students of all backgrounds are welcome in the space.
Matthew Lim, Kevin Pham, Dane Wyre, Alyson Lam, Abhay Cashikar, Nathan Chan, Ian Heaven
Participatory Design, Surveys, Workshops
UX Researcher, Strategy Design
Makerspaces, especially those with a wealth of tools, have several inherent barriers to access. Expensive and complex tools are intimidating, difficulty finding help is alienating, and their stated purpose -"a space to make"- means people only use the space when they need to use its tools.
These barriers are in conflict with the goals of our IDC makerspace. Makerspaces are meant to act as accessible and inclusive communities. Specifically communities of practice, where inexperienced users can learn from experienced mentors. I conducted preliminary research into the motivations and perspectives of the volunteers in the space.
How might we create inclusive makerspaces and makerspace communities?
To better direct the strategy of the Interdisciplinary Design Commons (IDC), I organize and run townhalls every month with the student volunteers who work at the IDC. I ask them to identify pain points in the IDC experience and have even conducted participatory design workshops to find solutions. See some session notes or the results of a workshop below.
Check out photos and notes from townhalls below.
2. Diversity of Workshops
I wanted to create workshops that would entice a different crowd to our space than our normal soldering, circuits, and microcontroller workshops. I decided to work on a laser-cut planter workshop. It was a huge success, with the first workshop completely filled up and several people on the waitlist. We have also since added a paper lantern workshop and sticker workshops.
See photos from some of the popular succulent planter workshops I've run in the past two years. I have also run workshops on Fusion 360 and Soldering.
3. Hive Partnership Program
In order to expose the IDC to a wider diversity of students throughout Georgia Tech, I started an initiative with a large variety of campus organizations to encourage partnerships with the Hive. We provide tours of the space as well as offering the space to organizations to use as a meeting space. We even ran a movie night! We have partnered with the Society of Women Engineers, Engineers without Borders, the Women's Resource Center, and many more.
See the sheet that started it all below.
Conducting surveys on the ~100 volunteers that help run the space. Volunteer surveys were distributed through volunteer communication channels. We received 48 responses. PI stands for Peer Instructor, which is what we call our volunteers. The Hive is the name of the Makerspace Community while the IDC is the name of the physical space.
Questions on the survey are added below. Demographic information was not collected.
Feedback for the IDC Community
Questions designed to gauge volunteers' current and previous experience at the Hive.
On a scale of 1 to 10 how fulfilling has being involved at the Hive been to you?
Select the ways that being a PI for the Hive has benefitted you.
What, in your opinion, do you think the Hive does well?
If you want to continue being a PI, why do you want to continue?
In your opinion, what area does the Hive need the most work in?
If you don't want to continue being a PI, please explain why.
Do your friends know about the Hive through you?
What Volunteers do in the Space
Questions designed to find out what volunteers prioritize and how they use the space.
If you had to guess, what do you spend the most time at the Hive doing?
How many hours a week do you spend at the Hive?
What do you personally find important about The Hive? (PLEASE CHECK EVERY BOX THAT APPLIES)
The Current Nature of the Hive
Questions designed to gauge volunteers' perception of the nature of the IDC.
Do you think the IDC should primarily be an ECE space, an ECE + CS space, a STEM space, or be a space for all disciplines?
Do you think that The Hive would benefit from a greater variety of events? (Cultural, Health & Wellness, Food & Play)
Results were presented to the executive board and faculty to provide insight into the volunteer base where there previously was none. The replies also suggested that people preferred the Hive over others due to the kindness of the volunteer base and the volunteer base thought the makerspace was doing well.
Half of volunteers do not see the Hive primarily as a space for all disciplines.
24 of 48 responses said that the makerspace was primarily a STEM, ECE, or ECE + CS space as opposed to all disciplines. This differs from our explicit mission statement as a makerspace for people of all backgrounds.
The second largest function of the space is to study.
Only second to volunteer hours, volunteers use the space as a study space. It is important to note that a makerspace is a space first, and that the space can support other activities.
Several core members of the community spend a significant amount of time in the space while most only spend mandated hours.
This has to do with the different user personas prevalent in the space. There is a distinct group of volunteers that only come to the makerspace to volunteer and nothing else. This group is less likely to have as strong as a connection to the community as those who spend more time in the space.
Volunteers join to learn about tools and access those tools.
We hire volunteers based on the ability and drive to teach. Volunteers are attracted to the makerspace due to the 24 hour access and a suite of state-of-the-art machines.
Diversity and Inclusion Fellowship
In the Fall Semester of 2020, I joined the cohort of Diversity and Inclusion Fellows managed by Georgia Tech's Institute of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I applied because during my tenure at the Hive I noticed the lack of BIPOC and women volunteering for and using the space. I had previously had several discussions with women in the space who felt "weird" about participating in such a male-dominated community.
My work as a Diversity and Inclusion Fellow is to conduct surveys and interviews for a large sample of women and BIPOC at Georgia Tech in relation to maker spaces. I am currently working on the research process and on acquiring an IRB for the research.