Making It Work

Makerspaces, corgis, and my Grad School Puzzle
JUN 2020
Alan
P.
Mechanical Engineering

What if I told you that a grad school education could include the finer details of wooden corgi carving? If you told me that a year ago I would immediately respond with skepticism — “right, because that’s a productive use of time”. Yet, today I would argue that such education is not only possible but should be thoroughly encouraged.

My path towards wooden-corgi-making apprenticeship was sparked by a stray email that landed in my inbox. It was a shotgun-style department-wide request for volunteer mentors at MakerWorks (MW), an on-campus Makerspace. For me, a self-proclaimed manufacturing nerd who spent a fair bit of time in and around machine shops, this seemed like a fun way to find a scene of like-minded people and help others in their personal quests to make. It was also an opportunity to join a community that didn’t center around research and to get a refreshing change of scenery. I sent off a quick application and, fast-forward a handful of months, there I stood, beginning my time in MakerWorks.

As I discovered on my first day in the space, not only does MW use volunteers to staff the shop, but the entire day-to-day operations are run by volunteers. The volunteer-driven environment is a huge part of what makes the space so unique. The mentor population spans an eclectic range of personalities and backgrounds, joined by a common desire to tinker. This type of setting encourages mentors to spend downtime during shifts brainstorming, working, and sharing projects of their own.


One of my in-progress projects in MakerWorks

Though a large part of my initial inspiration was good will — helping others use the space — I quickly found that my shifts in MW served as dedicated time to cleanse the mind. It didn’t matter what I had going on or how busy I was, the two hours a week of making were sacred. It was set-in-stone time to get up, put down the laptop, and get my hands dirty. Whether it was helping users figure out how to make something new or working on Christmas presents, my time spent making always felt like a much needed mental recharge.

On the note of Christmas presents, perhaps my favorite side-perk to working in MW is the capacity for hand-made gifts. This is where the wooden corgi comes back into the story. It began as a compromise on having a pet in the apartment I share (brilliant if you ask me!) and became my favorite personal project so far.

It still seems to me like all of the perks of a pet with none of the drawbacks: you can name it and treat it like family, but it won’t shed and you never have to worry about it using the apartment as an oversized bathroom. I spent more hours than I’m proud to admit fixating on the little details of my apartment’s newest addition to the family. After pouring in several shifts working on the present and polishing off the finer details of the wooden dog, I was left with what I claim to be the finest corgi carving on this side of the Charles. (Disclaimer: I have yet to meet any competition for the award, though a quick search revealed some compelling contenders)


The Long Awaited Corgi Pics!

From corgi carvings to helping others on the path to Maker-dom, I can safely say that my time in MakerWorks has been the most surprisingly beneficial piece of my grad school puzzle so far. In addition to being what I had hoped for — a newfound set of friends and a place to fulfill my own desire to make — MakerWorks has also been a place where I’ve found my volunteering to be as much help for myself as it is for others.