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GRENFELL MATTERS: Trumpeting the makerspace

Maria Kilfoil is the Makerspace manager at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook.
Maria Kilfoil is the Makerspace manager at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook. - Contributed

I've been a big DIY person ever since I was a child. I'd create mechanized improvements on the farm where I grew up, or build my own furniture or whimsical objects. Physics was just an extension of my creative ability.

Grenfell Campus’s new makerspace brings access to a machine shop to everyone, to stimulate innovation. It will be a workshop that features everything you will need to make a prototype of a product. The space will be open to kids, adults, and entrepreneurs and have a variety of maker equipment including 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, microprocessors and sensors, soldering irons and even sewing machines, for working with wood, metal, electronics, textiles, and (almost) any other material you can imagine.

The idea harnesses a number of recent trends that are democratizing. I’ll explain what I mean by that, but first I’ll say that in doing so, the idea addresses big questions:

How can you create an environment that stimulates development of innovation?

What are the required building blocks of such an ecosystem?

Until very recently, industrial design often had to be done in the context of a large company, because the tools to do it were exclusively the territory of big companies. But that's not the way it works any more. People can go right into creating an enterprise or product, by themselves. The hardware has gotten cheaper and easier to use. Once you figure out how to make a digital file that embodies your design, you can use the same template for all these different fabrication tools. My role as manager of the makerspace, and the Navigate business incubator manager Billy Newell and the Navigate entrepreneurship centre manager Sean St. George, are to provide resources and mentoring for people on all the different aspects of this journey.

These are ambitious goals — and it’s important that we do dream! — but how do you go about achieving that? Well, one way is to bring people together who together can achieve much more than can any of the individuals: you create the opportunities for collisions between makers and not-yet makers in the Corner Brook community; students from science and technology and math, Fine Arts, Arts, and business; DIY society and the public and Grenfell libraries; experts from industries key to Western Newfoundland; and people from funding agencies. That can happen organically, through programming we develop, or more formally, through existing entrepreneurship curriculum. Towards this end, my other focus is developing a network of potential users of the maker space, developing programming, and figuring out ways to get into the classrooms on campus to encourage core skills and usage of fabrication tools, and the journey of entrepreneurship. I’ve been doing robotics workshops in rural communities in western Newfoundland, with robotics just a compelling platform for technology and design. I’ve used them as opportunities to create awareness about the makerspace. We’ve been focusing on events for encouraging entrepreneurship in the region, like a forestry-themed Startup weekend we just held in June. We’ll be continuing and building these activities. All these small ways will establish the solid base needed for the loftier goals.

The most fundamental thing is, of course, to create the space, and my primary occupation (and obsession) currently is building out of the makerspace – sourcing the digital and traditional fabrication equipment. We’re planning to have an open house for the makerspace, in the second week of September, in tandem with the same for the business incubator, in a Navigate Week.) The community will hear all about it.)

I feel extremely fortunate working alongside the other faculty and staff here at Grenfell Campus and at CNA. I’m constantly getting to collaborate with extraordinary experts in complementary areas. They’ve laid a lot of the groundwork for the makerspace and business incubator, and share the vision of a natural extension of this new capacity to an Innovation Centre that would house all these spaces together in downtown Corner Brook, leading to even greater and more impactful collisions between all these stakeholders.

There are so many talented artists in the region, and I’ve been talking to as many as I can about the makerspace and hear how they might use it. I am excited to hear how they plan to add digital craft to traditional craft in their work.

The kids in rural communities in Western Newfoundland get it. You can’t go around to all the places from St. Anthony to Port-Aux-Basques that I do and not get very inspired. I couldn’t be more excited and I hope you are too! We are really looking forward to engaging with makers, and aspiring makers and designers in the area.

Maria Kilfoil is the Makerspace manager at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook

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