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New makerspace offers creative outlet for university community

Jennifer Lawhead (left) watches as Alicja Fisher and Tyler Lennox Bush (right) print
Jennifer Lawhead (left) watches as Alicja Fisher and Tyler Lennox Bush (right) print "IRL" logos on t-shirts at DePaul University's newest makerspace. The Idea Realization Lab, equipped with 3D printers, sewing machines, electrical hardware, power tools and more, encourages the pursuit of thinking through building. (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)
Beginning this September, the DePaul community will have a new hub to share ideas, collaborate and create on campus. Known as the Idea Realization Lab, DePaul's new student-driven makerspace on the Loop Campus provides students, faculty and staff the space, tools, guidance and materials to craft ideas, learn from one another and bring their concepts to life.

Located on the third floor of the Richard M. and Maggie C. Daley Building at 14 E. Jackson Blvd., the Idea Realization Lab houses every type of creative equipment imaginable. From laser cutters and multiple 3-D printers to stop animation labs and robotics parts to traditional hammers, nails, yarn and googly eyes, the open-concept space is curated with the maker in mind.

"We designed this space to be a hub for innovation," says Jay Margalus, an instructor in the College of Computing and Digital Media and a co-founder of the lab. "The lab enables students and other creators to rapidly prototype and think with their hands on campus, rather than having to go offsite to get work done. We want this to be a space to solve problems and create through improvisation."

Within the lab sits a classroom-like area, fit with movable tables and chairs, a pivoting television screen and enormous white boards fit for larger training sessions. There also are several small meeting rooms where groups or extracurricular clubs can get together to brainstorm, sketch and build-out projects. A lounge area also is available for members of the university community who may just want to stop by and hang out in a place buzzing with creativity.

"Everything in the space was created for flow and function," Margalus says. "Even the storage units and furniture are movable. We don't want static structure to hold back any creative flow. People can make the space what they want it to be. Most of the items here, such as the art on the walls and the furniture, were actually made in the lab, which just further hammers home the idea this is a space for makers of any and every thing."

In addition to physical tools and materials, student employees of the Idea Realization Lab also will provide weekly workshops on how to use specific equipment in the lab, including the laser cutter -- individuals are required to attend a training session before using it. Friday mornings throughout the quarter will be designated for lectures by guest speakers, who typically will be creators and innovators within their respective fields. Though individual members of DePaul will have varying equipment clearance based on the workshops they attend, founders of the space reiterate the concept that faculty, staff and students are equals within the space.

"Each aspect of the lab is student-run," says Jenn Lawhead, a senior in CDM and one of the lab's lead student moderators. "We are in charge of everything from conducting workshops to managing the front desk to guest speaker invitations and scheduling. It certainly is open to all members of the university, but we really want this to be a student-run community that promotes thinking through making."

Though mainly College of Computing and Digital Media students and faculty will supervise the space, Margalus and the other co-founders note the common spirit and goals among all DePaul community members as the Idea Realization Lab's foundation.

"The lab fits into both CDM and DePaul curricula because it brings our students together with other students from different backgrounds and colleges," Margalus says. "Our goal is to bring people together so their work and educational experiences overlap and inform each other: a true liberal arts education. We don't talk very much about what makes us different, but about what brings us together. If they succeed, we do."

The lab held its soft opening on Sept. 1, before the start of the fall quarter, but a grand opening event is set for the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 13. Attendees will receive a tour of the space, information on the available supplies and the opportunity to meet the founding team. Workshops are set to begin the second week of September. Lab tours will be held every Saturday beginning Sept. 16.

For more information about the lab and workshop schedules, visit the Idea Realization Lab's Facebook page or contact Jay Margalus