Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the National Week of Making kickoff event at the White House hosted by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. This past year, thanks to the leadership of Dr. Vahid Motevalli, associate dean of engineering, Tennessee Tech was one of the first of now approximately 70 leading universities around the country to join the Make Schools alliance.
The Maker Movement is an interesting and exciting phenomenon bringing together communities of entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators, educators and political leaders of all ages from all sorts of disciplinary backgrounds such as art, design, science, engineering, advanced manufacturing and business. They coalesce around the shared passion for making things that solve problems and help people. Makers aspire to possibly launch the next Apple, Google, Microsoft, Garmin or Facebook, but what fuels them is the fundamental, natural human instinct to invent and innovate. It is the quintessential essence of American ingenuity.
The Maker Movement is about creating something, anything, of tangible value to offer the broader community. Modern tools like virtual reality, 3-D CAD and 3-D printers are now becoming more affordable and accessible to provide rapid prototyping of new ideas. We are now beginning to see “makerspaces” popping up around the country in schools, public libraries, community centers and university campuses.
I invite you to visit Tech’s new makerspace, iCube (Imagine-Inspire-Innovate), located on the third floor of the Volpe Library. A collaborative partnership of the Colleges of Engineering and Business, along with the Office of Research and Economic Development, the iCube is an open-access makerspace equipped with state-of-the-art design technology for students from any disciplinary major on campus. The technology is cool, but the most exciting part of iCube for me is seeing 40-50 students working in teams to create the next best thing. Some of those projects go on to compete in EagleWorks, TTU’s version of Shark Tank, and ultimately some will go on to achieve commercial success beyond TTU.
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As a brand, the Maker Movement may be the new national trend, but Tennessee Tech has been in that business for 100 years. Tech always has produced makers. They are our graduates who are inspired to innovate, solve practical problems and produce products of value for their companies, communities and personal enjoyment. It’s exciting to witness the TTU tradition now becoming mainstream as we inspire the next generation of student innovators and entrepreneurs.