Members of the Lehigh community put their hands and creativity to work this month using the tools and equipment in the campus “Maker Space” to bend metal into custom-designed cookie cutters and laser-cut their own ornaments.
The holiday “Maker” event was held Dec. 9 in Lehigh’s Wilbur Powerhouse, home to the university’s prototyping lab, Innovation & Creativity Lab, and equipment including laser cutters, routers, computer-aided design software and 3D printers.
About 100 students, faculty, staff and their families made cookie cutters, shearing sheet metal into strips, bending pieces by hand with tools and spot welding the ends together in the shapes of stars, trees, snowmen, snowflakes and Lehigh-themed “Ls.” An enterprising electrical engineering student even created a set of cookie cutters in the shapes of various electrical components.
To make ornaments, participants customized text on a Lehigh Mountain Hawk logo on a computer and then cut the festive designs from wood in batches using the Powerhouse’s laser cutter.
Brian Slocum, managing director of the Wilbur Powerhouse and Design Labs and director of Lehigh’s Additive Manufacturing Lab, said the event was part of Lehigh’s campus culture of “Making.”
Lehigh has a long history of creative problem solving and invention—most recently manifested in the self-directed creative inquiry of the Mountaintop initiative, its entrepreneurship and product development programs, and throughout the engineering and design curriculum. However, there is a real need and desire for students to “get their hands dirty” building and creating, Slocum said, which the campus has addressed by creating access and resources for designing and building, whether it is for class or a personal project.
“There is a value to nearly every student in ‘making,’” Slocum said. “It lights up different parts of the brain. It allows you to consider problems in a different context. Working through problems in a physical way has been proven to result in breakthroughs.”
That applies in fields as diverse as the arts, engineering, chemistry, or business. For Slocum, creating and sustaining a campus “Maker” culture is about getting more students access to more ‘making’ resources, supporting a community where ‘making’ is happening around one all the time, having a low barrier to entry to use tools and equipment, and empowering students, staff and faculty to use those resources.
The holiday “Maker” event in particular tackled those last two points:
“This was a fun activity, where anyone from the Lehigh community—students, staff, faculty, and their families—could come use these resources to make their own cookie cutter and ornament,” Slocum said. “The overall reaction was really great. People were excited to have the opportunity. Two women came specifically because it was in the metal shop and they had wanted an opportunity to ‘play’ in a space like that.”
President John Simon, who attended the event with his wife, Diane, has described the Wilbur Powerhouse as “a true hub for makers” with resources that help campus community members see that “the barrier from idea to reality is paper thin.”
Student Kelsie Strobel '18 made a snowman cookie cutter and learned the basics of metal forming.
"Lehigh has all these great tools, from metal working and wood working to 3D printing, so it was great to get to use them for a night," she said.
Maker Space volunteer Peter Nguyen ’18 said the event was fun for the community at the end of the semester.
“People really enjoyed it since they had the opportunity to get their hands a bit dirty and make beautiful stuff out of it,” Nguyen said. “I would also like to think of it as our kickoff event for the Maker Space in Wilbur Powerhouse [more] than just a one-time thing. I think that it is important to expose the community to the idea of ‘Here are a bunch of tools and here is the training session. Now go and make things you want to make.'"
Photos by Christa Neu
Video by Stephanie Veto