Students at CCV-Winooski are getting a taste of the maker movement—which might sound trendy and abstract, but it’s actually pretty basic: it’s literally about making things. And these students are loving it for a pretty basic reason: they get to work with their hands, turning their ideas into reality.
CCV is partnering with Generator, a makerspace in downtown Burlington, to offer a special topics class called Fundamentals of Engineering and Design. This isn’t the first time CCV students have had access to the space, an unassuming industrial building on Sears Avenue that happens to house some of the most cutting-edge tools and technologies around. Two classes have been here before—drawing, and a computer information systems course. Generator’s executive director Chris Thompson says working with CCV and other area colleges is “fundamental to who we are.”
Thompson says Generator gives students a chance to dive in. “We’ve got 300 people here, and a portion of those are college students, but the other portion of them are actually professionals who are starting businesses, running art practices, or are some of the more successful engineers and artists in the community, and they all hang out here…you can go sit in a college classroom and talk theoretically about how things work, or you can be in a space where people are actively doing those things professionally and start making those connections and potentially sort of jump in and start things with everybody else. It’s kind of a unique real-world opportunity.” The space includes artist studios, an electronics lab, a metal shop, wood shop, and machine shop, and a long list of tools, from lathes and mills to 3D printers and laser cutters.
Student Brittany Tran graduated from Burlington High School this year, and says she has interests in the medical field and in engineering, and she’s taking the class to explore the world of design. She credits the class for introducing her to Generator. “I think it’s very cool. If it wasn’t for the class I wouldn’t have found out about this. And if I did find out about it, I definitely would have looked into getting a membership.”
The class is based at CCV-Winooski, but is meeting at Generator for four consecutive Saturdays. The object of the class time at Generator is simple. Instructor Joe Chase says it’s about students “making something to learn from it, and then continue with the iteration process, and [grow] their understanding about how things work together. And then find out if they want to do more.”
One of Tran’s classmates is studying environmental science, and hopes to transfer to UVM. “I’d like to work at the intersection of environmental issues and design,” says Rohit Fenn, who grew up in India and came to the U.S. for the first time to attend a Google science fair, for which he’d designed a water efficient toilet.
Students receive a one-month membership to Generator as part of the course. This means they can use the space any time of day, any day of the week. And Chase says many are coming in to work on their own. For Fenn, the benefits of being a student here are obvious. He describes himself as a “huge fan” of Generator. “I’m thrilled to be in this space, and I’m constantly telling my friends that I have access to a place like this, which is a real privilege…I feel like there’s so much learning that can happen.” For one thing, the tools are a major draw. “These are things people wouldn’t necessarily give students access to, like where do you get access to a laser cutter and a CNC (computer numerical control) machine? These things are thousands of dollars.” (Or maybe more like tens of thousands.) He also notes the efficiency of sharing tools among hundreds of users rather than just one owner.
Fenn has some advice for students considering the class. “I would tell them that if you’re on the fence or thinking about a career in engineering or design that a class like this is exactly the prerequisite you need…if by the end of this class you don’t want to be an engineer/designer/maker you will know it, and if you do, you will be thoroughly excited about it.”
Chase says all experience levels are welcome in the class, and anyone with an interest in engineering should take it. “I think that no matter what your job is, or what your career path is, if it involves design or making or manufacturing, you need practical experience in putting things together.”
Next year, CCV will partner with Generator to offer a CNC class during fall semester. CCV will also offer Fundamentals of Engineering and Design at its Rutland center, where students will have the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and get to work at their local makerspace, The MINT.