In the Loop
Alumni News : Sep 19, 2016

SA+AH alumnus helps grow innovative makerspace program at UNC

By Mandy McDade

During his tenure as a student and professor at SA+AH, Charlie Cummings (Ceramics MFA ’11) learned the importance of interdisciplinary work. As a ceramics student, he was able to branch out and work in many other programs; as an adjunct professor, he taught courses like Digital Fabrication and Media Experiments in Technology and Art, which allowed him to appreciate the importance of working with diverse mediums.

Cummings has taken this knowledge with him to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill campus, where he has recently began working as the program manager for the school’s innovative Be a Maker (BeAM) makerspace program on campus. His job entails everything from getting the makerspaces up and running to creating programs and policies for the facilities. The program — which already has three impressive makerspaces throughout the Chapel Hill campus — has plans to expand to residence halls as early as next year.

The makerspaces are equipped with a variety of tools, including 3D printers, laser cutters, industrial irons, CNC mills, sewing machines, as well as metal- and wood-working shops. The program offers trainings and workshops, and once they have been trained, students can work on independent projects in the spaces as well.

“The thing that makes it most exciting is that the spaces are open and free to everyone on campus, so anyone who has an idea can come in and create something,” explains Cummings. “We want to reach out to people who have never made before, who are in any major, and encourage them to come out and try out these tools.”

Part of this outreach includes mobile “Maker Carts,” which volunteers wheel into residence halls to work on projects and crafts with the residents. The Maker Carts are equipped with anything from 3D printers to cooking supplies. One student, Cummings recalls, had a “Cake Cart,” and he teaches students to bake and decorate cakes in their own kitchen.

Part of Cummings’ ultimate goal is ensuring that half of all future incoming classes have a “significant experience in the makerspace,” which means that over 15,000 students would need to be involved in a makerspace over the course of four years. It’s a high task, but with the growing program and the future move into residence halls, Cummings is optimistic about the task.

“We’re developing training where students start by just picking up and testing out these tools,” Cummings said. “We want to take away that intimidation factor and show that anyone can create things here.”