make/SHIFT Virtual: Seven Ways to Utilize Makerspaces for Social Impact

NACCE Blog ,

Day 3 of NACCE’s make/SHIFT virtual attendees witnessed how a variety of makerspace models can impact and support their communities, moving hearts and minds as we explored stories of service to others with Open Works and others, and learned to pivot with COVID-19 response. So how do you turn your makerspace into a makerspace for social good?

Practice EMPATHY and encourage PURPOSEFUL ENGINEERING.

Making is ultimately about giving each person an opportunity to embody the makerspace and create room for innovation, pouring their skills into making and creating. As you fill your makerspace with toys and tools, you may see more and more people taking interest. Use this momentum to invite diverse groups willing to test and challenge their abilities to join you. Explore hosting a “Day of Disability” at your makerspace, and show able-bodied individuals what it is like to be physically challenged. Not only does this encourage empathy, but it introduces an opportunity for the purposeful engineering of assistive devices, designing for good.

Harness the power of the NACCE Network.

Makerspaces provide for collaboration and teamwork, as well as improve communication skills of participants. Likewise, your NACCE membership and our NACCE events provide an opportunity for us to collaborate and work together. While we have already covered 21st century skills in other blogs, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of critical-thinking and creativity. Talk to your network about how to continue to innovate and engage students and at-risk communities as we move through COVID-19. Don’t let a lack of in-person engagement stop you from making, or from reaching out to others about how they are using maker kits to improve morale. Not sure where to start? Find a makerspace near you.

Turn your makers into superheroes.

Model the “Superhero Mini-Me” project at your college. Students make ‘mini-me’ super heroes using 3D Printing that empower them with the bravery and courage that the students themselves were lacking. Think about projects that are not simply product-based, or geared towards workforce development, but consider how practicing technology leads to empowerment, and see engagement with communities who will benefit from a reminder that we are all superheroes.

Shine a light on epic failures.

What could be more rewarding for a maker that to showcase their success? Why not help emphasize the importance of failure and resiliance as well? Attendees took a virtual tour of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Halls of Fame and Shame. Create your own, and help makers remember that the path is one worth traveling, and that we can learn not only from iteration and modification but from each other.

Any space can be a makerspace.

We were thrilled to hear about all of the creative ways that makerspaces can take shape, and have been reminded that in many communities, the library can become the heart of making on your campus. On-campus users may leverage librarians to help students turn “trash” – like old magazines – into maker “treasure,” or to provide feedback and help learners research their projects. One way to make such a makerspace sustainable is to establish a maker membership, offer paid day-passes, group memberships, or paid access to certain spaces. Consider partnerships with both governmental and non-governmental sponsors, and create a revenue stream for your space. In the meantime, check out Idaho’s Make It at the Library Project, designed to meet digital users where they live.

Explore national makerspace data and be intentional about inclusivity.

According to the Nation of Makers Economies Survey, 61% of makerspaces are nonprofit. National makerspaces serve populations from “K to Gray,” or age 6 to 60+. Similar to the “know your client” rule, makerspaces should know their makers. Drive attendance by tailoring programs to diverse groups. Great ideas include developing programming for all stages of education, teen entrepreneurs, seniors, moms, and at-need or at-risk communities. Check out Gizmo’s Educational Resources to spark some creative thinking.

Collaborate in a crisis.

When COVID-19 hit the United States, community college makerspaces were among the first to explore what communities around the globe had done to help provide essential supplies for those on the front line. This global perspective allowed them to move quickly into prototyping, testing and improving supplies for hospitals and communities in need like masks, face shields, respirators, and other protective gear.

Makerspaces are inherently flexible, and have the ability to be proactive with the right support. As one of the participants shared, “Anyone can be a maker. You just have to ask enough people and you will find the right someone with the right answer.

A makerspace has the potential to have tremendous impact both locally and globally, sparking good will and positive actions within a community. We encourage you to lean into the conversation at the NACCE Making Center of Practice, and to reach out to your network. We look forward to hearing about your successes.


A warm thank you to make/SHIFT virtual’s day three speakers: Barb Mueller, GIZMO CDA at North Idaho College; Holly Hanson, Cumberland Business Incubator at Roane State Community College; Liz Cox, IDEA Lab at Red Rocks Community Colleges; Jim Correll Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College; Deana Brown, Idaho Commission for Libraries; Erica Compton, Idaho STEM Action Center; CAPT Brad Baker, MakerSpace Lab at USNA; and, April Lewis, Open Works.