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Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022

MEME Opens; ‘Middlebury Environment for Making Everything,’ That Is

In three weeks, my chapter at Middlebury College will be closed — I’m graduating. But before I go I have some unfinished business to tidy up. For three years, I’ve tried to create a makerspace here. After hundreds of pages of plans and proposals, dozens of meetings, one summer working in a makerspace, one graduation of a founding partner, tens of hours setting up equipment and the help of more people than I can reasonably list here, I’m finally ready to deliver. Friday evening at 5 p.m. Middlebury College’s makerspace will open its doors for the very first time, and I welcome you all to come check it out.

You may ask, “What the heck is a makerspace?” I’ll begin by defining “making.” Making is the process of representing an idea independent of oneself. A makerspace is a facility that supports people in this endeavor by equipping them with tools for crafting, and connecting them with a community of people similarly spirited in their enthusiasm for creation. Middlebury’s makerspace is equipped with a laser cutter, 3D printers, computer-controlled mills, a heat press, a vinyl cutter, a variety of hand tools and a variety of tools for working with electronics and microcontrollers. The ambition is to create a place where, with enough persistence and YouTube tutorials, you could make anything you could dream up real using the equipment in the space.

We’re calling it the MEME, and I’m almost sure that requires some explanation. It means two things.

First of all, it is an acronym: Middlebury Environment (for) Making Everything. Given what I’ve said above, this is probably self-explanatory. The second meaning is that it’s a meme. I don’t mean meme as a funny caption on an image circulated around the internet. I mean “meme” in the original sense. The term meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book on evolution called “The Selfish Gene.” The meme is a “unit of culture” analogous to the gene. It is an idea which is “hosted” in the minds of one or more individuals and which is reproduced by jumping from one person’s mind to another.

When I worked in a makerspace in Michigan my charismatic boss gave fantastic tours, and he would always end by informing the tour participants that they had all just received a memetic infection. We chose the name in homage to that. But what idea are we trying to spread at Middlebury? If you want to manifest your creativity in the world, I want to eliminate all the extraneous barriers to doing so. That is what the makerspace is for: to encourage you to pursue your ideas by just getting started and figuring out the rest along the way. At college, we talk a lot about preparation for the “real world.” Well I think this is the “real world” and we don’t need to get ready, we just need to get started. If you have an idea make it happen, make it real. That’s what the makerspace is for. That’s our meme.

On Friday, May 11th, the makerspace will finally open its doors to the college community at large with a 24(ish) hour make-a-thon. The event will begin at 5 p.m. with an open house and tool showcase until 7 p.m. You can come learn about all the tools I mentioned above and get some inspiration for how you may want to use the space. On Saturday, there will be three classes on digital fabrication taught by community members and a special guest from Harvard. One class is on 3D printing, one on computer-controlled milling, and one on laser cutting. You can sign up for these at the open-house but you’ll have to get there early before they fill up.

The rest of the make-a-thon various people will be in the space working on projects. The makerspace is located in The Bunker (the portion of FIC closest to BiHall). You can enter by taking the steps right next to the seminar room off the terrace or by the outside door on ground level. I’ll be there. I’ll be trying to cram in everything I’ve wanted to make while at Midd and didn’t get to yet. Come say hello!