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MIT will offer all incoming freshmen time and training in their new MakerLodge

MIT already has a lot of great makerspace (something like 130,000 square feet!), including for 3D printing, CNC milling, laser cutting and other high-tech toys. They also have the classic machine-shop tools, and even a ceramics lab, glassblowing facilities, and an open foundry. But not all labs are open to all students. Many are restricted to certain majors, and many others are quite specialized or purpose-built. So MIT is leveling the playing field. Starting in fall 2016, every MIT freshman will get an open invitation to the new Project Manus makerspace: the MakerLodge. “These programs are designed to welcome and empower the next generation of inventors and innovators,” says Martin Culpepper, MIT’s “Maker Czar.”

Projectmanus_logo-300True to his title, the Maker Czar believes that making things has a positive effect on learning because it gives abstract concepts concrete purpose and meaning, but just as importantly, because it’s fun. And you don’t have to have a 3D printer in your basement to belong. During the summer of 2015, Culpepper surveyed the entire MIT student body. Less than a third of the respondents in the survey Project Manus used to develop the MakerLodge actually identified as a maker, but more than half of the students who replied said that they spent just a handful of hours per week actually “building, making, or creating.”

When asked what they’d do if they could design their own makerspace, students overwhelmingly wanted whiteboards, group workspace, and the classic wood and metal shop tools — but a majority also wanted 3D printing, electric fab, and laser cutting. Culpepper said to the MIT News that “students want access to the kinds of bench-top tools you might have in your own garage, and to really advanced scientific equipment and instrumentation. It’s almost like there isn’t anything they don’t want to tinker with and work on.”

To play in the MakerLodge, students need to go through the college’s training program. Once they’ve proven their competence and safety skills, they have access to 10 makerspaces, and they get $100 in MakerBucks, the on-campus debit account used to purchase materials and time on the machines of their choosing. There’s also an app to help students navigate the maze of labs and workshops.

“All MIT students will have increased access to training, facilities, funding, and community,” said Ian A. Waitz, dean of the MIT School of Engineering. “Similar to other new education programs for seeding innovation like MIT Sandbox, StartMIT, and the Entrepreneurship and Innovation minor, we are determined to lower barriers and open access to all that MIT has to offer. Once we say ‘yes’ to a prospective freshman, we never want to be in a position to have to say ‘no.’”

For those who don’t have access to a nearby technological institute’s state-of-the-art machine shops, check out your neighborhood tool library. Making is for everyone.

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