Sacramento City College Opens Larger Makerspace Post-Covid
Tom Cappelletti wanted more space to introduce its diverse student body to collaboration and innovation
Professor Tom Cappelletti is Project Director and Faculty Coordinator of the Sacramento City College (SCC) Makerspace. With a degree in product design from UCLA, he has a demonstrated history of working in both the private sector and in higher education. Tom has a strong background as an education professional with an MA focused in educational and instructional technologies from California State University-Sacramento. He supports disruptive curriculum, 21st century skills development, team-based solutions in an iterative environment, always using project-based learning and social awareness as guideposts.
DD: This year, the new makerspace opened at SCC. Tell us first a bit about the original space you had and then how you got a larger space?
TC: The genesis of our makerspace began back in 2016. My colleagues and I brainstormed the creation of a cool hands-on lab facility on campus, very DIY, that would be open to all students, faculty, staff, and the local community, with generous hours, cool stuff, traditional tools, high tech tools, materials of all kinds, tables, benches, computers, video editing, sewing machines, 3D printers, all kinds of stuff most of us cannot afford, or don’t know how to use, with the idea of coming together, learning, making stuff, building stuff, and empowering each other as we explore project-based learning from multiple departments and perspectives. Hey wait, we wanted to build a makerspace!
I had started visiting the community-based makerspace called Hacker Lab in midtown Sacramento, and was fascinated by the possibilities. Of course, Zack Dowell up at Folsom Lake College was a pioneer in this movement years before with his space and served as inspiration and mentor to us. The consensus was, hey, we should be doing this on campus! We have a wonderfully diverse, bright and talented, yet low income student population here that historically faces a lot of challenges getting going as adults. Community College might be their only realistic choice in the Higher Ed sphere to advance their skills and opportunities, principally due to economic reasons, not talent or ability by any means.
We learned there was this State of California seed money available for community colleges interested in having a go at creating a makerspace, so we threw our hats in the ring, not quite knowing what we were doing, or what we wanted, but again, excited by the potential and the possibilities.
We got that two-year state grant, along with a handful of other community colleges around the state, and we found a small, underused area in a far-off corner of campus, around 2,000 square feet of space, to build our initial makerspace. I wanted a larger space of course, but that was the only place we could call home, so off we went.
We opened in Spring 2018 to instant success; the place was constantly packed with students and staff, averaging 750 students each week, with engagement from faculty and staff from across the campus, all kinds of campus student clubs holding events, and offering over 20 workshops each week, all free. We had this mantra of being fun and engaging, and a safe haven for everyone. We went full steam ahead, crazy busy everyday, until shutting down in March 2020 by COVID.
The silver lining to the pandemic shutdown was, for us, having a breather from day to day operations, to reflect on our future at SCC. At the time, new buildings were being built on campus, primarily to house courses in the sciences. No, we were not going to get space in these slick new buildings, but large work spaces formerly used by these programs were going to be freed up and made available when they moved into their new digs. We were given a 6000 sq. ft. metal shop building in January 2022, and got to work on a reimagined, larger makerspace for the campus.
I have to say, as faculty, I initially did not understand the machinations of campus administration at the time. We were extremely lucky, from the outset, to have an amazing ally in our Associate Vice President of Workforce Development, (Gabriel Meehan, since retired) and she advocated for us and educated us in the nuances of budgets, personnel, facilities, purchasing, giving us the decoder ring on the whole management process and truly greased the skids and paved the way for us to be able to build this initial makerspace, then later on petition for and acquire the larger space. She was fantastic and a huge supporter of the maker movement, she truly understood what we were doing.
DD: Does the larger space allow you to expand the services you offer?
TC: This larger space has allowed us to expand existing areas that were popular before (but cramped) in the smaller space. We now have room to have a classroom devoted to electronics, a large craft zone, a more capable, and much larger, general workroom, and a dedicated tool room. We also can now expand our CNC capabilities, with new (and more) state-of-the-art equipment. The whole idea is for us to introduce this, give exposure to this stuff, so they can see the potential these machines bring. We also have coming this fall a more expansive wood shop area and welding capability in an exterior yard area, so we’re excited!
DD: How did you describe what goes on in the space to your administration to get them to support it? How do you describe it to other faculty?
TC: It’s really “Show and Tell” and “Seeing is Believing” for both my administrators and faculty colleagues. If I can get them into the space for a tour, and hopefully it is full of students buzzing around at the time, they see happy, engaged, curious students learning, making, collaborating, growing. They just see it, and get what is going on immediately. It is the light bulb moment. The hardest way to win over my colleagues is for me to try to explain it. I can drop the buzzwords and there may be some intellectual understanding, or, in some cases, opposition, because it is pedagogically threatening to their beliefs, their ways of delivering instruction.
Let’s be honest, most of my colleagues (I’m guilty of this too) spend much of our day trapped behind screens, with online tasks, communications, projects, etc. bombarding us constantly. Yet most all of us can remember a time when we were free to run around, play, be curious, explore, truly grow as individuals. Hopefully it is more recent than grade school! So anyway, they see it, and their eyes light up.
I’ll be honest, there is still a contingent (smaller every day) that just does not get or understand what we do, yet, won’t come in to learn and discover. I’m okay with that. My job is to identify the kindred spirits out there and have them be advocates for us across campus.
DD: Tell me about the students, how they see the space and what it means to them? What do you see them doing or wanting to do?
TC: Well that is the most rewarding thing, the students that discover and find us, and find a home, new friends, new connections, new opportunities, in the makerspace. You know we only opened this new space in January, so it was 34 months shuttered, and then this new larger space. We have this whole new crop of students, and many new staff that do not remember the old space, and for many, spending most of the past couple of years learning and working online, remotely. It’s great to see again students wandering in alone, or as part of a class tour, you see this awe, realizing this is their space, we are here for them. We meet students where they are at. We let them wander and explore, and mess around, try things. We encourage them to make stuff from the get-go, get busy, to just see the possibilities. That’s all it takes really.
DD: Talk about staffing the space? Do students become staff? How are they trained?
TC: Staffing is the secret sauce of the makerspace. You know it’s not the toys, the gizmos, the technologies. Well okay, all that helps, I admit, as an understanding of that stuff leads to some rewarding careers and is empowering. Yet having the right people is the most critical thing. It’s the same with any project, business, sports team, we’re a family. We’re helpers. We have been so lucky to attract exceptional students and members of the community to work here, to be a part of our team.
From the very beginning we attracted students that wanted to help out, even in the design, creation and operation of the original space. Many identified with the maker movement, some had been to the Maker Faire, and many had DIY in their hearts, and all were curious. This new space, much like the old space, may have been seeded by faculty and staff, but it was cultivated and grown by student staffers, being allowed to create and operate the space and make changes based on their observations and experience. They are empowered, they mature, they grow by doing this.
I have never professed I knew what I was doing. I just had a hunch this was the right thing to do, based on my own background learning by making. I believe strongly in design thinking and we are constantly and collectively reinventing the space, its offerings, all the time. Every time I walk in to our new space I see new students, new projects, experiments, staff helping others, students helping other students, stuff everywhere in various states of construction, destruction or ideation, a glorious mess of discovery and exploration. It's fascinating.
We were so lucky to have student staffers from the old space come back and provide the continuity as staff for the new space, bringing with them their experience and maker knowledge. I am forever grateful to them for their help in getting our Makerspace 2.0 off the ground. Many have already moved on, getting great jobs, degrees, striking out on their own, but so many pitched and helped with the new makerspace. We are now cultivating student newbies to slowly take over as we head down the road. We all stay in touch on Discord and the like, this growing SCC Maker Family. I am so proud of them all.
DD: You have people from outside SCC come in to teach workshops?
TC: Most all of our budget goes to staffing. We have a mix of staff that represents current and former students, skilled, creative community members, and faculty (full timers, part timers, and retired) pitching in. I have noticed I need more staff coverage, as our space is much larger, and administration seems okay with that starting this Fall when we really go into full operations, after some major infrastructure upgrades scheduled this summer.
We actually hired Josh Manley as an Adjunct Professor because of his background and knowledge. Folks like him are the future leaders of this space in my opinion. He just started his class on Fusion 360 and CNC, and that class, along with our 3 other offerings this Spring semester, filled up completely. We’re offering 8 courses this fall and expanding our hours.
DD: When I visited and talked to you and other staff members, I got the feel that everyone including students was really proud of the makerspace. Do you think one of its roles is connecting students to each other and to the community college?
TC: We always strive to position our makerspace as a safe harbor, a warm, kind and welcoming place for everyone. Many of our younger students are new to college life, and especially “in person” experiences as young adults. So we strive to have fellow students greet students, show them around, offer peer mentoring, coaching, and encouragement. There is some important socialization for them going on. We have a wide age range and a very diverse population. It’s a good thing for everyone to learn to work with others this way.
Our classes, our workshops, and just being in the space tinkering around hopefully creates a sense of belonging, of caring, of community. We really want everyone to feel welcomed and engaged. Many new friendships have emerged, along with new project ideas, new collaborations, that ripple way past the confines of our makerspace.
This past week students decided to do a neighborhood trash clean up, others are building a kitchen, and still others are having a clothing swap. There are ideas for a solar cookoff design challenge, creating a bike repair station, and a fix-it electronics zone. Others are designing a mural for our exterior façade. Rumors of the ugly portable building next door to us being removed have been confirmed; what about a small student run community farm encouraging sustainability next door? Also, a soapbox derby-style competition in the parking structure. Oh goodness, I will have my hands busy “working” with the administration on these proposals!
Sacramento City College went through our rigorous accreditation process last year. When we received our evaluation, the onsite team noted this about our school:
“In addition to the programs above, the team was impressed by the creation of the 2016 Makerspace, which was born out of a faculty sabbatical and serves as a hub for innovation and collaboration for faculty, staff, and students.”