Learn by doing—that’s the motto at The Construct makerspace

Friday, August 14, 2015

By Marcia Morphy



David Donath from Lafayette, N.Y., made an intricate table out of Baltic birch plywood for his final industrial design project. Engineering students Roy Cohen, Samuel Feine and Matthew Glazer worked on projects that included a high-powered amateur rocket engine, an LED-lit bicycle cart and a motorized longboard with Bluetooth capabilities.

They did their work in The Construct, a makerspace where hobbyists and tinkerers can combine science and technology know-how with infectious enthusiasm for creating something.

“The Construct caters to the inventor mentality, the entrepreneur who wants to take that extra step while they are here at college and don’t have access to other labs,” said Lab Manager Michael Buffalin, who monitors work stations for safety with trained student lab assistants experienced in handling the equipment.

Unlike scripted projects in undergraduate classroom labs across campus, experimentation in The Construct—3,000 brightly lit square feet on the fourth floor of Institute Hall—is inquiry-based and learner-driven.

“A makerspace is a safe place to learn,” said Richard DeMartino, endowed chair and director of the Albert J. Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “The Construct is a university-wide resource available to all students at RIT, developed in large part through student leadership and the assistance of faculty from many colleges who recognized the importance of a laboratory for students to create their own innovations.”

Tinkerers at The Construct have access to a variety of high-tech and low-tech equipment: CNC router and mill, laser cutters, 3D printers, drills, saws, soldering irons, electronic circuitry, and woodworking and metalworking supplies. All disciplines and skill levels are welcome and the communal space can be used for self-directed projects, entrepreneurial ventures, and even tasks as seemingly mundane as fixing high-tech gadgets when they break.

Cohen, from Tenafly, N.J., is a part-time lab manager at The Construct and co-founder of the RIT Launch Initiative. “It’s a perfect place for our club to build a high-powered amateur rocket engine because everything is under one roof—3D printers, laser cutters, soldering equipment and high precision machinery like the CNC mill to cut metal. If you want to build something, these are the kinds of tools you don’t have in your garage or dorm room.”

Glazer, from Long Beach, N.Y., agrees. He’s been using the lab to revamp his electric longboard that enables him to reach speeds of 15-20 miles per hour. “I’ve installed LED lights on the sides and a power box with rechargeable batteries—with plans for a Bluetooth connection to my phone. The lab is a great resource where you can get help and advice while working on your project.”

Feine, from Houston, said he believes the sense of like-mindedness is the real connecting thread of students who come to The Construct. “It’s a different education model where we learn through doing and can help one another and meet people who share the same interest.”

Buffalin said The Construct is a lab for anyone who has an idea or a dream.

“It could be a business student who wants to make a sign, a design student who wants to make housewares. Anything and everything is possible here—and we help make it happen.”