Editorial: Makerspace; HCC collaboration; training nurses


Published: 12/10/2017 11:37:39 PM

A Makerspace at Mount Holyoke College fosters an entrepreneurial culture and encourages women to break into the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines.

“There is so often a phobia of technology,” says Makerspace faculty coordinator Katherine Aidala. “You hear people all the time saying ‘I’m not a math person, I’m not a science person, I’m not a tech person, I don’t do that.’ That’s exactly, exactly the kind of attitude we want to combat.”

A Massachusetts Life Sciences grant helped Mount Holyoke with the $85,000 cost of transforming the former Digital Media Lab into the Makerspace. The two-year-old workshop that encourages interdisciplinary work is filled with equipment including a laser cutter, soldering station, vacuum former, two 3-D printers, vinyl cutter, sewing machines and workbench devoted to adhesives.

“The space overall includes collaborative areas that just bring people together in a non-academic setting,” says Aidala. “It’s not affiliated with a department.”

Shani Mensing, who graduated from Mount Holyoke in 2015, is the Makerspace coordinator and technical specialist. “It’s really interesting to see what people will create given the resources.”

Peter Klemperer teaches an iDesign course that serves as an introduction to the Makerspace for many students, teaching them to pitch ideas, and conceptualize, design and build their projects. “I think it has facilitated a lot of interactions between departments and students from different majors,” he says.

The Makerspace invites faculty from all disciplines to encourage their students to visit and explore how technology can be applied to their classes. One American foreign policy class used the space to build small drones and students then reflected on ethical questions pertaining to their use in warfare and humanitarian aid.

Data is being collected to determine who uses the Makerspace and whether it is meeting their needs. “We’re going to want to know whether the resource itself is important and whether we’re successfully building this somewhat entrepreneurial culture — this creating something from nothing, hands-on approach to problem-solving,” Aidala says.

Ultimately, Mount Holyoke hopes it adds to its already strong track record of graduating computer science and physics students by giving more women the skills and encouragement to pursue careers in the STEM disciplines.

That’s a laudable goal for the liberal arts college in South Hadley.

* * *

Another exciting interdisciplinary initiative financed by a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities is centered at Holyoke Community College.

The grant allows HCC faculty to work with Amherst, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges, the University of Massachusets Amherst, Bay Path University in Longmeadow and Tangshan Normal University in China on Learning Community courses breaking down the walls between disciplines.

HCC will pair with each of the six collaborating schools on one course that will be offered for three years, with enrollment split between the institutions. Each class is taught by two professors from different disciplines around a common theme.

The courses are particularly useful to HCC students when they apply to four-year colleges.

We applaud the community college for looking beyond its campus to promote innovations in education.

* * *

We welcome another collaboration involving four institutions to improve the opportunities for training nurses in the region.

Representatives of Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School and Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, Greenfield Community College and Westfield State University earlier this month described how they will streamline the process of educating nurses. GCC’s Licensed Practical Nursing program has moved back to the Smith School campus where high school students may enroll in a certified nursing assistant program.

Graduates of GCC with an associate degree in registered nursing may transfer their credits to Westfield State and complete a bachelor’s degree in one additional year. Cooley Dickinson’s involvement will help smooth the path to a job there.

This is happy news for students who aspire to become nurses and the health care industry that needs the additional resources.

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