The Daily Gamecock

Makerspace engineering workshop closed in December despite student petition to save it

<p>The front of the John E. Swearingen Engineering Center, located at 301 Main St., on the University of South Carolina campus on Jan. 12, 2024. The building was home to the Makerspace, which closed in December</p>
The front of the John E. Swearingen Engineering Center, located at 301 Main St., on the University of South Carolina campus on Jan. 12, 2024. The building was home to the Makerspace, which closed in December

A creativity workshop for students within the College of Engineering and Computing, known as the Makerspace, shut down in December, leaving some students without a space to foster their engineering imagination. 

The Makerspace, a short-lived project that opened in 2021, was an extracurricular activity room equipped with 3D printers, sewing machines, robotics-related equipment and other materials. Students used the room to develop personal projects and expand their classroom skills.

Student surveys conducted by the university revealed that interest in the Makerspace has declined since 2021, according to Collyn Taylor, a university spokesperson. 

"It never gained the traction we hoped," Taylor said. "There was some student use, but the room was mostly being used by the students paid to work there." 

Second-year mechanical engineering student Rori Pumphrey was a Maker Mentor, a paid student worker in the Makerspace who taught other students how to use the equipment. She said the space had become a symbol of diversity and inclusion in engineering, with Maker Mentors hosting workshops that fostered minority community building.

A team began efforts to create the Makerspace in 2019, which included Jed Lyons, the senior associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Engineering and Computing. Lyons organized some of the first workshops to get more students familiar with the space after it opened.

He said he wanted to help expose students to a particular manufacturing process called rapid prototyping through an extracurricular activity, but very few people visited the Makerspace.

"Rather than trying to use an extracurricular activity to encourage student knowledge of additive manufacturing, we decided we're going to integrate it into some of the curriculum," Lyons said.

Anusha Ghosh, a third-year public health and Spanish student, started a petition to save the Makerspace on behalf of the Maker Mentors, despite not being involved in the Makerspace herself. She said she wanted to help those involved fight back.

The petition had received about 200 signatures when Ghosh brought it to the attention of College of Engineering and Computing administrators in December. She said she emailed the petition to the full list of administrators twice in hopes of discussing a solution that would satisfy the concerns about the Makerspace and of the students who used it, but she never received a response. 

College of Engineering and Computing Dean Hossein Haj-Hariri was not available for comment. 

"Although it doesn't impact me, I feel like it's my responsibility to make sure that other students' voices are heard to a capacity," Ghosh said. 

Before the Makerspace closed, Lyons offered the Maker Mentors other jobs in the CEC that involve the same equipment from the Makerspace and carry out similar work.

Sowmya Raghu, a mechanical engineering PhD student and the former director of the Makerspace, had been wanting to develop a Makerspace since 2016. After it opened, she implemented ideas to make it more collaborative.

"I considered that to be one of my personal successes, and it was running my professional career," Raghu said.

Some of the equipment from the Makerspace, such as the 3D printers, have been redistributed around the CEC and integrated into mechanical and aerospace engineering courses to provide students better access to it. 

Pumphrey said that the closure "doesn't make sense," because she sees engineering schools at other universities continuing to develop their Makerspaces. 

"We just have not been given the resources in order to be successful," Pumphrey said. "There are so many other ways that a Makerspace can (be) incorporated and utilized that haven't really been acknowledged." 


Raghu said that watching attendance in the Makerspace decline was saddening, but the closure is the best move going forward.

"(I've) pondered over what I should have done differently, what I should have done better," Raghu said. "But I tried to rethink, I gave it my all and that's all I can say."