The University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley) and University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) are both located in world-renowned hubs of engineering education and high-tech innovation. In many ways, they’re at the cutting edge of their fields. It’s no surprise then that both campuses have invested in facilities that break the mold of traditional engineering education, looking to the Maker movement for inspiration.
“We were driven by a vision of having a large-scale impact on undergraduate engineering education,” said Björn Hartmann, Interim Faculty Director at the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation at UC Berkeley. “Engineering alone is not enough. Technical work tends to take place in a team context, and teams have to understand the needs of their users.”
The Jacobs Institute involves a shared set of facilities in which both regular College of Engineering classes and less structured makerspace activities take place. It’s an ‘interdisciplinary ecosystem’ which seeks to foster a focus on design for real impact.
Many educational institutions have been attracted to the less structured, more open aspects of makerspaces, communal facilities which offer opportunities for collaboration with a supportive, interdisciplinary community. However, institutions of higher education are still experimenting with ways to incorporate the deliberately unstructured, supportive environment of the makerspace with the need for grading metrics which are applicable to a formal degree program.
“We have a mix of activities. The classes held here tend to have more open-ended projects,” said Hartmann. “We also work to engage students from different disciplines outside of engineering, including the humanities. Many of our courses are College of Engineering classes, but they all have a connection to our core mission.”
A similar philosophy drives the EnVision Arts and Engineering Maker Studio at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, which opened in January 2016. EnVision is described as an ‘experiential teaching facility’ where both engineering and visual arts students are empowered to tinker in a supportive environment.
“One of the unique aspects of the EnVision studio is that we have seven departments offering hands-on freshmen level classes ranging from nanoengineering to visual arts,” said Nate Delson, Envision Maker Studio Faculty Director. “While setting up the space an emphasis was placed on creating a culture of inclusiveness and excellence. By empowering students, we have seen them take on more responsibility and self initiative.”
“This summer we will have over 100 student volunteers building examples and tutorials for future students,” Delson added. “Example projects and the iterative design process will guide students to excellence in their own efforts.”
While the approaches of the EnVision Studio and the Jacobs Institute are similar, the facilities were developed independently of one another. Both, however, share the same goals of inclusivity and reaching out to other institutions in their respective areas (both EnVision and the Jacobs Institute participated in the InnovationMaker3 Symposium Series hosted by CCST and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office earlier this month).
“There are multiple threads going on in parallel,” said Hartmann. “Making is a cross-cutting activity. We all want to foster that interdisciplinary interaction and for students to be engaged and welcome. It is, we think, the way forward.”
M. Daniel DeCillis, PhD is the Spotlight editor and a Senior Research Associate at the California Council on Science and Technology.
The California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization established via the California State Assembly – making California’s policies stronger with science since 1988. CCST provides California’s Executive and Legislative Branches with independent scientific advice, convening a diverse network of expertise spanning California’s public and private universities, community colleges, and Federal research laboratories.
CCST Sustaining Institutions and Affiliates Featured: University of California Berkeley; University of California San Diego; California Community College System