Spring break renaissance: Makerspace becomes haven for innovation

Students seize break for passion projects and certification in UC's Ground Floor Makerspace

In the active corridors of the University of Cincinnati's 1819 Innovation Hub, where creativity fills the air like static electricity, a curious phenomenon unfolds during spring break — silence.

Yet, amidst the tranquility, Ben Jones, the director of the Ground Floor Makerspace, noticed a spark waiting to be ignited. "Before the break, it's a whirlwind of activity," Jones remarks excitedly. "But during spring break? Not a soul in sight."

With an entrepreneurial spirit matched only by his dedication to student success, Jones devised a plan to transform the quietude into a bevy of innovation. "We decided to offer the space as an intensive for those lingering souls knee-deep in capstone projects," he explains.

Access to most of the makerspace's treasure trove of equipment comes with a caveat — certification.

Within the 12,000 square feet of prototyping and fabrication space, spanning basic hand tools to advanced manufacturing equipment, houses industrial woodworking and metalworking laser cutters, 3D printers, soldering stations and CNC routers and waterjets.

Each is a gateway to boundless creativity but all demand respect in the form of training sessions. "We guide them through the intricacies of getting certified on the equipment," Jones muses, "then set them free to conquer."

If you open it, they will come

Five men stand inside UC's Makerspace discussing machine operation.

Makerspace guru Nathan Gorgen guides eager minds through the ultimate Woodshop B certification journey. Photo/Jack Shad

The results were nothing short of spectacular. Dubbed the "Maker Break," the initiative drew UC faculty and students from all over campus like moths to flame. "Several members even abandoned the ivory tower to pursue personal projects," Jones said with a chuckle.

With a more than 168% increase in attendance from Maker Break’s first year, Jones noted 112 faculty and students attending over 175 times with more than 40 of those members being seniors finishing capstone projects. Now in its third year, Jones saw another 9% increase.

To get the word out, Jones recounts the exponential growth spurred by savvy social media pushes and monthly newsletter campaigns. The once-deserted space during spring break now teemed with life, a vibrant ecosystem of ingenuity.

“It’s not all classwork and serious, focused activity,” Jones said. “It’s also people exploring their own interests — for no cost, except for the material used when building from a 3D printer.”

Close up of a small silver metal combat robot created by UC grad student Jacob Hoffmann.

Meet 'Maximizer,' the ultimate combat champ crafted by UC grad student Jacob Hoffmann in the Makerspace — a powerhouse bot packing punches and brushing off damage like it's child's play. Photo/Jon C. R. Bennett of JCRB Photography

Among the throng was Jacob Hoffmann, a maestro of mechanization, whose days were a balance of solder and circuitry. "Here, I found my canvas," Hoffmann said.

Hoffman, who is pursuing his master's of science degree in mechanical engineering is a frequent flyer in the Makerspace. Currently fueling his spare-time passion in Combat Robotics, Hoffmann, a member of UC’s Combat Robotics club, and now his own YouTube channel, uses the Makerspace to build his 12-pound combat robot ”Maximizer” for competition, such as the NHRL (National Havoc Robot League).

“I love the Makerspace,” Hoffmann said. “The waterjet and laser cutter work in tandem beautifully from prototype to fabrication. When you combine the different tools here you can quickly graduate to the design phase and walk into any design studio and immediately start to speak the incredible machine language necessary for a variety of specific projects.”

Purpose and passion

Woman stands and a man sits in chair look at a computer screen on a table.

Makerspace tech wizard Melinda Jia lends her magic touch, helping Pierce Elliott prep a print on the Epson SureColor plotter. Photo/Jack Shad

Once certified, faculty and student passion intertwine with purpose in the hallowed halls of the Makerspace. "This has never been just a pit stop," Jones said. "It's a sanctuary for the dreamers and the doers."

During the week, students embraced the opportunity with fervor. "Morning till night, they toiled," Jones said. “During the break, the Makerspace became a melting pot of boundless potential of human ingenuity.

“Our Makerspace offers a lot more diversity in equipment and learning skills than other labs because it is one of the only multidisciplinary and multi-major spaces. Any day of the week you will find designers and engineers working in the same space, sometimes separately, sometimes collaboratively, and this is the only place on campus where that actually happens,” he added.

As the Maker Break ended, the echoes of innovation lingered, a testament to the transformative power of passion. "This," Jones declared, gesturing to the bustling space, "is just the beginning." And in the heart of UC's innovation hub, where creativity knows no bounds, the journey of discovery continues unabated.

Featured image at top: UC grad student Jacob Hoffman utilizes the Makerspace welding booth to assemble his bot for an upcoming robotics competition. Photo/Jack Shad

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