EPCC opens collaborative workspace with state-of-the-art equipment for STEM students, faculty

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – El Paso Community College held its grand opening of the Makerspace Lab, a workspace with technical and mechanical tools, at the Valle Verde Campus.

The lab is a collaborative workspace for making, learning, and sharing that uses a variety of tools, including 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, and other technical or mechanical equipment.

These spaces are highly effective at developing design, and critical thinking along with digital skills, EPCC officials said.

“EPCC’s Makerspace Lab provides new standards for innovation that supports modern learning, creativity, and collaboration which will engage students and faculty in applied learning,” said Steve Smith, vice president of Workforce and Education at EPCC. “Students will be connected with leading technologies in a space offering limitless possibilities for innovation.”  

The Makerspace Lab allows students, faculty, and staff to engage individually or in teams to develop science, technology, engineering, architecture, and mathematics (STEAM) related and integrated projects.

The collaborative space helps serve students in multiple fields of studies and is open to the entire student body at EPCC.

“A Makerspace is vital on a community college campus in order to provide equitable access to the equipment, tools, supplies, and expertise needed to implement project-based and experiential learning.  Students can create high-quality projects and products for their professional portfolios and more,” said Margie Nelson Rodríguez, English Professor and member of EPCC’s Makerspace Committee.

Not only does Makerspace offer opportunities for students and enhance classroom experiences, but it is also a chance for students to use equipment to prepare them for future employment or as they transfer to pursue additional education.

“The Makerspace Lab not only teaches students and other users about up-and-coming technology but also gives them hands-on experience with the actual equipment,”  said Calvert Boyle, coordinator for Makerspace. “For example, art students could design a koi fish or other image on the computer and bring their design to life by laser-etching it onto the glass. Architecture students get hands-on experience with CNC machines and can build unique creations such as a customized desk.  Medical students can print prototypes of prosthetics for children, veterans, or other patients in need—the possibilities are endless!”  

Initially conceptualized nearly five years ago as part of EPCC’s and UTEP’s STEMgrow grant from the Department of Education, the lab came to fruition as the result of support from and collaboration between multiple partners, including Harmony Science Academy, the El Paso City Library, and UTEP. 

Members of the EPCC Makerspace Committee visited the UTEP GAIA Makerspace early in the process where ideas were developed and shared. Faculty working on the project wanted a Makerspace that would build confidence, opportunity, rapport, and exploration for students.

They envisioned a place to foster students the capacity, creativity, and confidence to become agents of change; an opportunity to have a functioning lab with necessary tools and support to support college-wide creativity; building rapport among students, faculty, and staff to engage in cross-discipline learning and exploration in a community of practice where ideas, making, collaboration and energy come together to allow innovation and invention. This vision became a reality in 2019.

EPCC math professor, Fan Chen, formed the EPCC Makerspace Steering Committee which is made up of EPCC students, faculty, and staff as well as community partners. This committee makes suggestions and provides guidance for purchasing decisions, goal setting, workshop ideas as well as leads Makerspace programming. They are dedicated to making sure the lab offers the best tools, resources, training, and entrepreneurial opportunities for its users.

“Makerspace can be a great networking place for students and faculty that fosters innovation, creativity, and collaboration,” Chen said. “It is designed to challenge students to create and learn through hands-on experiences. The Makerspace Lab is a place where faculty can help our students develop their soft skills.” 

In addition to student impact, EPCC’s Makerspace Lab has already made an important and practical impact on our community since it became operational in 2020. While the pandemic delayed the lab’s official grand opening, Makerspace kept functioning. During the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Makerspace temporarily diverted all of its efforts and resources to help create personal protective equipment (PPE). Thousands of masks and face shields were given to frontline workers in hospitals, community partners, and others in need as well as across the nation and world.  

The lab located is located in Room A1512 at the EPCC Valle Verde campus. While Makerspace is currently only open to students, faculty, and staff, EPCC hopes to eventually make it available to the community as well.

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