UI College of Engineering Plays Leadership Role in White House Maker Faire

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Responding to President Obama’s call to empower America’s students and entrepreneurs to invent the future, and in conjunction with the first-ever White House Maker Faire being held today in Washington D.C., the College of Engineering at the University of Iowa announced several collegiate actions it is taking to support the national effort.

The college is one of more than 150 other universities and colleges that have shown their support through a joint letter to the White House.

In addition to the Makers at the White House event, June 18 is a nationwide Day of Making for communities across America to share and celebrate their involvement in the Maker Movement.

President Obama is hosting the White House Maker Faire and meeting with students, entrepreneurs and everyday citizens who are using new tools and techniques to launch new businesses, learn vital skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and fuel the renaissance in American manufacturing.  The President is also announcing new steps the Administration and its partners are taking to support the ability of more Americans, young and old, to have to access to these tools and techniques and brings their ideas to life.

Alec Scranton, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Iowa, applauded the White House for initiating the first-ever Maker Faire June 18.  “The event draws very welcomed attention to the many students and their mentors who are involved in building a ‘Nation of Builders.'"

“The College of Engineering already has a proud heritage of creating and participating in programs and projects that encourage bright, adventurous student Makers.  For years, we have encouraged our students to become ‘the engineer…and something more’ – not only concentrating on the rigorous studies of engineering and technology, but stretching themselves into teamwork, entrepreneurship, global awareness, technical communication, leadership, and even becoming the creative engineer with ties to the Arts.”

As the White House is holding the first national Maker Faire, the College of Engineering has already taken several steps to promote Making in Iowa, including:

  • Allowing students who are applying for admission to our College of Engineering to submit a Maker portfolio at that time.  The college asking future students to include this information in their scholarship application process.  The college has a high percentage of students who both apply for and receive scholarships, “so this is an excellent approach to encourage the Maker community as they begin their collegiate experience,” Scranton said.

  • Supporting education, outreach, and service learning that is relevant to Making.   This includes encouraging students to serve as mentors for young Makers.  For example, many current Engineering students are deeply involved in two major STEM programs.  The College of Engineering is an Affiliate Partner in the national FIRST Tech Challenge program and co-leads the Project Lead the Way efforts for the state of Iowa.  Both programs have been recognized for their STEM efforts from grade school through high school.

  • Encouraging students to use their senior design projects to experiment with Making and Maker-preneurship.  For years, every department at the College of Engineering has conducted senior capstone design projects as a requirement for graduation.  About 20 years ago, this was expanded to include the Program for Enhanced Design Experience, involving senior engineering students who work with engineers from industry on a design project for an entire year. The goal is for students to gain experience in the design process from conceptualization, to prototyping, testing and evaluation, and finally production. Students gain first hand experience in solid modeling, finite element analysis, dynamic simulation, and cost analysis. Emphasis is placed on communication skills, including written reports and oral presentations. 

  • Providing scholarships to students based upon excellence in making.  “Better than one out of five students in the College of Engineering receives a scholarship.  In addition, the College often awards scholarships at local and state STEM events involving grade school and high school students,” Scranton added.

“The College of Engineering is working to develop even more steps that will support our commitment to Making," Scranton added.  “We appreciate the national leadership at the White House toward advancing U.S. research and education, and we look forward to working with the administration to provide long-term success to the Making effort,” he said.

Scranton noted that America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. In recent years, a growing number of Americans have gained access to technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software, and desktop machine tools. The tools are enabling more Americans to design and build almost anything.

“The rise of the Maker Movement represents a significant opportunity for the United States, Iowa, and the University of Iowa,” Scranton said.  “Nationwide, new tools for democratized production are boosting innovation and entrepreneurship in manufacturing, in the same way that the Internet and cloud computing have lowered the barriers to entry for digital startups, creating the foundation for new products and processes that can help to revitalize American manufacturing.”

For more information on the White House Maker Faire and today’s National Day of Making, visit www.whitehouse.gov/makerfaire and follow #NationofMakers on Twitter.