As Trinity University continues to climb up the national rankings, peer and aspirant institutions are taking special note of the many ways we prioritize innovation on campus.
Trinity was ranked by the U.S. News And World Report as No. 51 nationally out of Liberal Arts colleges in the category of Most Innovative Schools, a category that asks top college officials across the country to identify institutions “making the most innovative improvement… and cutting-edge changes…in terms of curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology or facilities.”
And what better place to innovate is there on Trinity’s campus than the Makerspace: a one-stop machine shop where students of all majors can learn to create, design, and build with state-of-the-art engineering equipment. Located in Trinity’s Center for the Sciences and Innovation (a name that is probably a pretty good sign the University cares about this ranking), this shop is available to both independent student projects (particularly from the entrepreneurship program, just one floor above the space) and dedicated classes in various fields and disciplines.
That commitment to interdisciplinarity is a hallmark of life at Trinity, which has built a legacy out of redefining the liberal arts, both throughout our history and looking forward through the 21st century. That’s why when you head into the Makerspace, the first thing you’ll probably notice isn’t the hardware or tech, but the diversity of majors.
There are English majors welding, entrepreneurs using 3D printers, and theater and art students using wood cutters. Given the chance, students who enter the Makerspace do the opposite of specializing: they have an invaluable opportunity to forget their backgrounds, losing themselves in the creative process as silos and walls between disciplines come down.
But how does this happen? It might seem hard to believe that students of any background can just walk in and start expertly running CnC routers, laser cutters, welding machines, 3D printers and advanced design software. Indeed, this type of space is most commonly associated exclusively with high-level engineering programs, and yes, you’ll see students from our nationally-ranked engineering science program using it to the max.
But Trinity also staffs and equips the space in such a way that it’s accessible, usable, and fear-free for students of all majors.
The Makerspace is run by a dedicated staff that maintains and monitors the shop equipment as well as help students train and troubleshoot. This team is led by prototyping/fabrication technician Ryan Hodge, a student favorite for his calming demeanor (even in the face of long hours and looming deadlines) and patience in helping students learn to problem solve.
Hodge’s staff also includes additional technicians, student assistants and specialists and draws on the knowledge of science facilities manager Leslie Bleamaster, an adjunct geosciences professor, former Navy SEAL, and NASA collaborator.
Working around the clock, this team keeps the shop humming, while also striving to keep it accessible to any Tiger who feels the urge to create.
The Makerspace is also an ideal space to get creative because, ironically, of all the people that aren’t there: Since Trinity is a relatively small school, its Makerspace has the resources to handle a much bigger capacity than are typically in the shop.
So, even on days when the shop “fills up,” there’s always an opportunity for students to work due to the sheer range of tools available. This accessibility sets Trinity’s shop apart from other schools, and it’s a common theme you’ll see across all of Trinity’s facilities and resources: big-time amenities, small-school crowds.
That’s not to say students can’t enjoy the space in a group setting, too.
More classes are starting to build their base around the Makerspace, giving more Trinity students the chance to learn to work across disciplines with other majors they previously hadn’t even thought of joining forces with.
Take a relatively new, interdisciplinary class called “Academic Making for the Built Environment,” for example. Funded by Trinity’s Mellon Initiative Humanities/Arts Lab Development Grant, this class was the brainchild of many faculty and staff on campus: Kate Ritson, M.F.A., art professor; Scott Neale, M.F.A., theatre professor; Wilson Terrell Jr., Ph.D., Trinity’s associate vice president for Academic Affairs - Inclusive Excellence; and the machine shop’s Ryan Hodge. The project gave theatre, art and engineering science students the chance to build a professional-grade museum exhibit for nationally-acclaimed children’s museum, the San Antonio DoSeum.
There’s also opportunities through courses such as engineering science’s “How to Make,” held for the first time in Spring 2019, which teaches students of all majors to use machinery in the MakerSpace. There, students have created artwork, a 3D Settlers of Catan board game, and even a functioning Tesla turbine and a violin, among countless other projects.
A growing number of other classes (both inside and outside engineering science) also have stints in the Makerspace built into their curriculum. And that’s no surprise—learning to innovate (and to be innovative) is just as valuable a career skill as it’s ever been.
That’s why, in a liberal arts environment like Trinity, silos and divisions fall down: so new creations can rise—slowly and steadily as the material laid down by a 3D printer.