BY EMMA RUBIN ’20
Unoccupied rows of tables and chairs line what was formerly Prospect Dining Hall. Locked doors and an air of vacancy contrast starkly with the previous bustling environment and ever-changing culinary showcase the dining hall once held. However, as was announced Feb. 2, the 7,000 square-foot space will not stay empty for long.
The Mount Holyoke Board of Trustees approved plans during their retreat on Jan. 19 to transform the previous dining hall into a new and expanded home for the Maker and Innovation Lab.
The current Makerspace is located in room 211 in the art building, and it is a relatively recent development. The 2014 First-Year Seminar “iDesign Studio” marked its beginning, when the space was still known as the Digital Media Lab. The course originally intended to “bring tech-phobic students into programming and electronics,” according to the official website.
A version of the seminar offered during the summer for community college students persuaded the College to support the growth of the lab. Mount Holyoke College invested $85,000 in developing the Makerspace, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette. The Massachusetts Life Sciences Grant and a contribution from an anonymous donor supported this funding to expand the original configuration and invest in high-tech equipment.
Today, the lab is stocked with 3-D printers, a laser cutter, soldering stations, sewing machines, a vacuum former and a vinyl cutter.
The Makerspace also hosts workshops throughout the semester. These workshops vary in their emphasis, but are all related in their focus on individual creation: some include creating wearable technology, manufacturing DIY LED light-up cards and labs in chocolate-making and Halloween costume-designing.
Nick Baker, library and technology liaison for the Makerspace, said that Prospect Hall is an ideal location for the expansion because of its 7,000 square feet of available space, relatively central location and access to the lake and a patio for robotics usage.
Baker also noted the importance of Prospect Hall not being associated with any academic department. It can connect students from all majors in a friendly area where people can discover ways to work across various disciplines without any prior knowledge necessary. “The heart of innovation is often combination,” Baker said, “[and] the Makerspace is really well positioned to help us do that on campus.”
Baker said that the new lab is expected to undergo construction beginning this summer and to open in the spring semester 2019. They are still in the construction planning phase at the moment, but are developing a floor plan for the area’s set-up.
A more flexible work area in the proposed Makerspace will feature much of the technology that is already available. The expansion will also boast a wood and metalworking shop, three offices and rooms that will be available for classes, video conferencing and brainstorming sessions. A lounge will be at the center of the space.
“We are trying to foster a community on campus, so giving people a central space to just hang out will make it valuable,” Baker said.
Elizabeth Gottshall ’18 has worked in the Makerspace since it was the Media Lab during her first year. Despite her approaching graduation, Gottshall is still excited for the space’s continuing transformation. “I think it is really great that there is going to be an expansion because we definitely need more room,” she said.
Gottshall thinks that the expansion will allow more people to come in, and make the space feel more open to people who may not be familiar with it. She appreciates the interdisciplinary nature of the makerspace. “There is so much technology and you just have to figure out clever and new ways to use it,” she said.
A range of classes use the space, including “Engineering for Everyone,” in which Charlotte Schmaltz ’21 is currently enrolled. Upon arrival at Mount Holyoke, Schmaltz knew she wanted to pursue STEM fields. But she also loves art, and finds the Makerspace to be the ideal place to merge the two interests. “It’s just a very creative place,” she said.
Since discovering the lab, she has worked on projects for class, but also has pursued her own ideas, using a 3D printer and a laser cutter for the first time last semester. She is excited for the space’s expansion and hopes to learn new skills from the technology that it will offer.
“I just like learning how to do things,” she said, “and this is a great space for that.”