Places where individuals who are interested in the creation, design, and fabrication of new objects come together with the design software, manufacturing tools, and integrated control systems and related test equipment and build things that serve a purpose having at least personal significance. At UT Austin, these spaces are being re-envisioned and integrated into the fabric of the engineering student experience with a broader vision for creating an innovation commons and community of practice eventually reaching across the campus. The program welcomes people from many different disciplines and interests to understand a need, design a product that addresses that need, and iterate the design and fabrication through feedback from the “customer” community. This attention to empathy, sharing and understanding the feelings and needs of others, transforms something built into a solution that is needed and wanted. The beauty of such a facility within a university is that the practice of engineering, perspectives that span multiple disciplines and especially the intellectual challenge of synthesis become the backbone of the education experience. Operated in the right way, these facilities welcome novices but also eliminate limits to students solving real problems and creating valuable products.
Makerspaces provide the ideal intersection of insight, learning, theoretical knowledge and physicality of tangible solutions that allow faculty and employers to see the understanding and abilities their students have built. As a result, they provide a laboratory for describing the integration of competencies that students need to be successful engineers. These competencies can be described, assessed, and acknowledged with the marker of achievement, a badge, that is tied to a rubric, and the evidence. All of these can be viewed by anyone who wishes (and is authorized) to understand the nature of the competency that is recognized. It is an elegant way to make learning about ability and in turn make it visible and understandable to a larger community.