Maker Academy 2014

The ACU Maker Lab is offering its first Maker Academy this summer. Classes combine problem-solving activities, technology, with contemporary maker movement. Students will learn design thinking, the basics of rapid prototyping and digital fabrication, and how to collaborate with peers, and it’s open to the public. Read below for more information.

Register now!!




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Maker Academy 2014

Written by Nil Santana on . Posted in News

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 8.23.22 AM

The ACU Maker Lab is offering its first Maker Academy this summer. Classes combine problem-solving activities, technology, with contemporary maker movement. Students will learn design thinking, the basics of rapid prototyping and digital fabrication, and how to collaborate with peers, and it’s open to the public.

The Maker Academy is comprised of three different camps:

One-Day Camp: June 10th

Age group: entering 4-5th grades
Number of participants: 20 children
Registration fee: $25
9:00am – 4:00pm

In this creativity camp, students will learn the basics of making and building rough prototypes by hand using simple tools such as paper, glue, and tape.

Two-Day Camp: June 11-12th

Age group: entering 6-8th grades
Number of participants: 20 children
Registration fee: $50
9:00am – 4:00pm

Students in this camp will learn the basic principles of digital fabrication. They will use laser-cutter and software to build prototypes made of cardboard and cardstock. They will also learn to work on multidisciplinary teams.

Four-Day Camp: June 16-19th

Age group: entering 9-12th grades
Number of participants: 20 children
Registration fee: $100
9:00am – 4:00pm

This camp emphasizes advanced making skills and students will learn how to cut materials with laser-cutter and CNC router. Class project will introduce robotics and coding.

Register now!

Remaking Higher Education: The Maker Lab at Abilene Christian University

Written by Nathanael Glenn Driskell on . Posted in News

by John B. Weaver

The innovative promise of higher education is stunted too easily. Unique student aspirations give way to new student standardization; dreams of transforming the world give way to curricular conformity in the school. Institutional mechanisms of academic degrees can render a student’s creativity “just another brick in the wall.”

At Abilene Christian University (ACU), our faculty teach so that students can grow in their own responsibility and abilities to realize their goals for the future, and to utilize their talents in pursuit of these dreams. To leverage the full variety of students’ experiences and relationships as part of their learning process, ACU created its Maker Lab. This project seeks to expand the borders of student learning, and to break down boundaries to student creativity and engagement with the world.

Opened this past October, the ACU Maker Lab is a 8,000 square-foot design studio and prototyping shop that is part of the broader “Maker Movement” — a global sub-culture that is focused on “do-it-yourself” design and rapid fabrication of innovative products that address personal interests and sometimes broader societal problems. The Maker Lab combines this Maker culture with a “constructionist” approach to teaching and learning that emphasizes the importance of student making and manipulation of objects as learning outcomes that are tangible and refinable. This “student-led learning” emphasis approach is at the heart of the vision for the Maker Lab, which is a place and a community for fully empowering the experiences, interests, and abilities of ACU students as (re)makers of their world.

The Maker Lab at ACU is reorienting student approaches to their futures. At a recent open- house, over 300 ACU students, faculty and staff joined the group of makers to discuss a range of projects created in the lab. These projects ranged from quadcopters, to electrical guitars, to 3D printing of human bodies, to original works of art. With 3D scanners and printers, laser cutters, CNC routers, and a wide-variety of cutting-edge and old-school equipment, the landscape is fundamentally altered for students by their ability to both imagine and prototype a better future for themselves and their world.

Community is the Payoff

The main contribution of the Maker Lab, however, is not tools and technology, but rather a community of makers that is focused on sharing expertise and resources in the pursuit of building skills and making things, regardless of departmental boundaries and personal status. This is competence-based education that views student competence not only as a primary outcome, but also an essential starting-point for empowering learning through collaboration and community.

The Maker Lab is also a concept and a space for re-imagination of what it is to be a member of the teaching faculty at ACU. An increasing number of faculty are becoming “regulars” in the lab, offering their mentoring to students beyond the confines of the traditional classroom experience. In other cases, Engineering faculty and Art faculty work side-by-side in projects and presentations that were scarcely imaginable last year. Last month, for example, a presentation by an entrepreneur from the Abilene community brought engineers and artists together around three-dimensional printing and product development. This cross-departmental blurring of disciplinary differences is mirrored in the egalitarian approach to leadership of the Maker Lab, where student representatives and experts have equal voice with faculty leaders on the Maker Lab’s advisory board, which sets direction for the space and its role within the broader university.

Libraries and Librarians ‘Re-made’

At another level, the Maker Lab at ACU is a re-engineering of modern conceptions of the academic library. The library continues to serve as a repository (collection) and exhibitor (curation) of the information resources needed for undergraduate and graduate research, but the library is also increasingly focused on the immediate sources for feeling, thinking, and making that are needed in design and creation of products in the Maker Lab. In other words, the library is moving beyond a singular role as a repository of information “just-in-case,” towards a more holistic role in reconnaissance of knowledge “just-in-time.” In this role, the library discovers and supplies knowledge (and skills) that are needed in the process of creation.

Librarians who were once stationed in waiting-mode at research service desks, are now actively creating at workbenches and fabrication machines, inviting students and faculty into the productivity that they model as a matter of course. Sketching and calculation, along with traditional writing and research skills, are critical skills among librarians, who are becoming qualified and recognized as “master-makers” in the lab.

Library databases once buried in website lists of academic resources are now bookmarked on computer desktops dedicated to specific and common modes of production. “Information-literacy” is recast as “design-thinking,” with information seeking and evaluation still having an integral role in project-based inquiries that require contextual investigation, conceptual innovation, and creative iteration.

Spaces once devoted to shelving of printed resources (which are still present in the library in more compact and coordinated ways) are now dedicated to hosting of digital tools and data storage for problem-oriented student projects, which engage multiple literacies and multiple dimensions of creativity for student research papers and other innovative projects.

The Maker Lab’s “flipping” of the conventional institution of higher education is also seen in its realignment of community and university partnerships. For over thirty years, this type of partnership in the U.S. has focused on the creation of university projects and partnership that are “technology transfers,” moving innovative products and services out from the research arm of the university into the production and marketing environment of the business world. This model is shifting and being recentered in the university due to increasing awareness of the importance of:

  • Experiential student learning that engages the broader community, and
  • Community service by the university that accelerates innovation in the community through participation of faculty and students.

A number of such innovative university-community partnerships are being formed in the Maker Lab. This past November, for example, the Maker Lab’s collaboration with Captured Dimensions was on display at the Smithsonian’s X-3D Conference in Washington D.C. At the cutting edge of photogrammetry and three-dimensional printing, this partnership is leading to both exciting new approaches to the preservation and accessibility of cultural artifacts, and also new opportunities for ACU students to connect their interests and community needs to cutting-edge developments in the representation and remaking of our physical world.

From student learning, to faculty relationships, to library identity, to community partnership, the ACU Maker Lab is a catalyst for redesigning the educational enterprise at ACU, and hopefully at other universities. We want to share with you in this revolution. We welcome you to contact us, and to visit us at the ACU Maker Lab.

John B. Weaver is the Dean of Library Services and Educational Technology at Abilene Christian University. This article originally appeared on the Ideas Lab blog.

ACU Maker Lab Open for Business

Written by James Langford on . Posted in News

We’re a month out from the opening but I want to acknowledge all the work done to get us to where we are today. We’ve come a long way from an empty shell in late August to our open house Oct. 18. The amount of work done both by employees of the Maker Lab and volunteers, or “owner operators,” is amazing. Nil Santana, for example, even brought his family to help finish up the marvelous window treatment the night before opening.

So, here’s a glimpse of what it took, and in line with our belief that people are the most important part of a maker space, the people who made it happen.

Nil Santana, in addition to teaching his packaging design course in the Lab, designed our logo and complete visual identity. He’s taken it from start to finish, creating three dimensional renditions on our laser cutter that are folded from a cut, scored piece of cardboard. These are handy little puzzles that let potential makers participate in the making process. He also designed a custom iPhone cover from an adhesive-backed wood laminate that we gave away to the first 50 visitors at the opening. His entire family came with him to do final work on the long bank of windows, cutting the words on the vinyl cutter and laser cutter and attaching them to the windows. Nil fits perfectly the profile of a maker who sees a problem and fixes it, who volunteers to not only make the space better but to help others more effectively utilize tools and equipment.

Lyndell Lee has been largely responsible for researching and ordering primary equipment such as the laser cutter, 3D printer and CNC router and then enthusiastically setting these machines up, and learning how and helping others to use them. He selected, hired and supervises our student employee makers, is building the initial training modules, and can been seen at all hours of the day, night and weekends helping others with projects. He is an indispensable part of the Lab.

Brandon Young has worked with us this semester through a course-load reduction and has given the equivalent of those hours multiple times over already. He has served as our departmental liaison and is a key member of a couple of teams working on such projects as Ro Diaz’s 3D-enhanced painting and Jeremy Elliott’s guitar (to complement Darby Hewitt’s tube amp project). And, to confirm a trend that you’ve seen starting with Nil and Lyndell, Brandon is quick to offer help and expertise. He is also using his experience as an architect to help us forge a longer-term vision for the Lab.

Kyle Dickson heads up the Learning Studio, and along with Nathan Driskell and Matt Bardwell, created the film that got this all started, “We Are Makers.” Since then, they have created three short videos chronicling the Lab’s work with Ro Diaz, an alum and professional artist with a substantial following, and the work of Maker Lab partner and ACU alum Jordan Williams, owner of the startup Captured Dimensions, the first and only photogrammetry firm in the country. Kyle has also lead the creation of the blog with Nathan Driskell providing primary design and implementation work. Kyle and the Learning Studio have provided insight and leadership on the nature and strategic needs of a makerspace and have made numerous contacts that provided us national venues to tell the Maker Lab story.

Chad Longley has taken on many, many tasks in getting the facility ready, purchasing, soliciting donations, and refinishing equipment, tools and furnishings. He has also worked on safety issues and is our general go-to guy for all kinds of tasks around the facility.

Megan May and Camille Dickson have completely taken charge of the fiber arts section, specifying machinery and materials, organizing and setting up the space and inviting students to participate in the open house. As with others, they have volunteered their time and energies and provide a whole area of interest we wouldn’t have otherwise.

We’ve had generous funding from the Library, the Provost and the College of Arts and Sciences as well as critical input regarding safety and operational issues from the Engineering and Physics department, a key funding partner of the Lab. Engineering and Physics also teaches labs in the largest lab space. Jeff Arrington has been an important liaison to CAS and Engineering and Physics and through his extensive institutional experience in various roles has brought insight and partnership to the construction and ongoing operation of the Lab.

Ro Diaz ( and Jordan and Graeme Williams ( are important alumni partners and have visited ACU several times to share expertise and participate in projects. They drove from the DFW area to be with us for the open house and showed inspiring work that illustrates the diversity and creativity of the maker movement.

Finally, John Weaver, our executive sponsor and the originator of the drive to create the Lab, has been tireless in fund raising, raising awareness of the need for a maker space, promotion both inside and outside the University, and an advocate for thinking bigger and more broadly than we would have otherwise.

We’re open. Come in and make something!

Visitors register on the vintage Underwood typewriter with output to an iPad.


Jacob’s Dream at Smithsonian X 3D

Written by Kyle Dickson on . Posted in Art & Design, Maker Lab story

This week a group of faculty and technology leaders from campus will be in Washington, D.C. to explore the future of 3D printing in the arts. The Smithsonian X 3D event will include representatives from the Department of Art & Design and from the Maker Lab, sharing the process of digitizing Jacob’s Dream.

The 34-foot-tall bronze sculpture was dedicated in 2006 as part of the university’s Centennial Celebration and became an instant campus icon. ACU art and design professor Jack Maxwell and a team of students, engineers, and construction and landscaping specialists worked for two years to plan and produce the towering project.

Jack sat down with us last month to talk about the process of digitizing the 8-foot maquette.

The project was led by Jordan Williams, ACU graduate and co-founder of Captured Dimensions in Dallas, who will also be a part of the Smithsonian event. Jordan’s team scanned the scale model last summer, providing a digital record of this one-of-kind of piece, along with the ability to reproduce Jacob’s Dream at sizes beyond the reach of traditional methods.


For more on the original project, here is the Emmy-nominated 2008 documentary on “The Making of Jacob’s Dream.”

Angry Birds back in 2013

Written by Kenneth Olree on . Posted in Engineering

AngryBirdsThis fall the Introduction to Engineering & Physics class built life-sized Angry Bird launchers for the second year in a row.

This project involved more than 70 students, primarily drawn from the freshman class. Four Engineering & Physics professors led the project:  Drs. Tim Head, Matt Steele, Jim Cutbirth, and Ken Olree.

The students have been learning to apply basic physics concepts and the importance of modeling and checking those models against experimental results. Key physical concepts being learned include forces, kinematics (how objects move), work, potential and kinetic energy. The students have primarily worked in Matlab, an engineering software package. Once the modeling was completed, students designed and built over-sized catapults capable of launching dodge balls at pig castles made of large cardboard boxes.

Last week, competitions were held to see which teams could knock down the most pigs in the fewest shots, had the best precision, had the best model, could shoot the farthest, and could get the highest velocity. A lot of innovation and team spirit was displayed. One team was able to knock down all the pigs with one shot, and another group’s angry bird reached a velocity of 100 mph.

This week, students have presented the results of the project including what they’ve learned from the process of modeling, designing, building, and testing their launchers. It’s clear, fun was had by all and the spirit of angry birds lives on.


Here is the film from last year to give you some idea of the challenge.

Rolando Diaz in the Maker Lab

Written by Kyle Dickson on . Posted in Video

The various makerspaces we visited in the past year all shared a common focus on prototyping tools. Whether they preferred cardboard and tape or computer-controlled routers and foam board, the makers we met emphasized prototypes and models, and they moved regularly from idea to physical example and back to a revised idea.

Even before the Maker Lab opened, we began working with Dallas-based artist and ACU alumnus Rolando Diaz (’79) on a project that would merge traditional art with the Maker Lab’s digital fabrication tools. Over the last few weeks Rolando has worked with Brandon Young from ACU Art & Design and Lyndell Lee in the Maker Lab to take a concept from early drawings to a final piece he showed Friday at the Maker Lab’s open house.

We had an opportunity to visit with Rolando in Abilene and in his Dallas studio, and we continue to be impressed with how easily he moves between a wide range of formats and media. The film below follows him through production of his piece Forbidden Fruit, a reflection on the beauty and sense of loss of his native Cuba.

Ro hopes to use this small model as a prototype for a five-foot version, to be unveiled at his annual gallery show in Dallas this December. We asked him to give us the backstory on “Forbidden Fruit,” the series of paintings on which the sculpture is based.


On Protoyping

If you haven’t seen it already, the short film We Are Makers also introduces the iterative process of design in conversations like this piece from Allan Chochinov at the Visible Futures Lab at SVA:

“It is a tenet design consulting that you need to create something very quickly, sort of the smallest possible thing to earn trust. . . You can have a bunch of people meeting about what should we make, what should we do, but as soon as you give them something to react to, really give them anything to react to, you can make much faster progress.”

Allan emphasizes that prototypes can often make collaboration tangible, putting something in the hands of participants to help move the conversation forward. Come by the Maker Lab and you’ll see a wide range of early models and projects, most of them finished but many of them imperfect in ways that also helped shape the final product.

Epilog Laser Cutter

Written by James Langford on . Posted in News

Our Epilog laser cutter came in on Thursday and Nil Santana, Lyndell Lee and I have been burning it up all weekend. Here’s a shot of partial results from a day of tinkering:


3d logo and wood letters

3d logo and wood letters

We started off using cardboard boxes left over from recent equipment shipments. We next moved to some rigid cardboard-like stock and finally to a half-inch solid wood plank. You can cut the cardboard at 100% speed and a fairly low power so cutting out almost any shape is very fast. We cut the wood at 100% power and 3% speed, which turned out to be too slow.


We Are Makers film

Written by Kyle Dickson on . Posted in Media Project

As part of early planning for the makerspace, the Learning Studio produced a short documentary on the Maker Movement to spark conversation on campus about the value of “learning by doing.” Many students and faculty helped shape these early discussions, but the film gave us an opportunity to hear from key voices thinking about the impact of making in different contexts—in community centers and libraries, in education and museums, and in hackerspaces and online.


We also had an opportunity to write for a couple important blogs this summer alongside the summer release of We Are Makers. If you’d like some detail on the film, here are those links.

Nathan Driskell, “We Are Makers: Documenting a Burgeoning Movement,” Core77 Blog, July 23, 2013

Kyle Dickson, “We Are Makers Seeks to Explain the Maker Movement,” Make Magazine Blog, July 3, 2013


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