Van Leer prepares for update

Photo by Ashleigh Bunch

For the past 50 years, the rotunda beside the Van Leer Building has welcomed countless students, but at the end of October, all of that will change as construction begins to transform the rotunda from the current auditorium into a modern makerspace.

Tentatively named the Interdisciplinary Design Commons, the upcoming three-floor, 15,000-square-foot makerspace will contain a host of electronic equipment and fabrication tools to meet the creative needs of students in multiple majors.

“I think as soon after everyone saw how successful the Invention Studio was, we started to asking the question: shouldn’t there be one that’s focused on electronics?” said Steven McLaughlin, professor and Steve W. Chaddick School chair of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who has led the ECE administration since its work planning for the new makerspace began only three years ago.

From the start, the goal was to try to figure out the design that best incorporated the specific wants of ECE students and faculty while still broadening the makerspace’s function for any student of any major on campus.

Bonnie Ferri, associate chair for Undergraduate Affairs in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Tech, helped to oversee the design process of the makerspace.

“The idea is that we’ve got some of the fabrication stuff that duplicates a lot of what the Invention Studio, but not much,” Ferri said. “And we have more the electronic stuff, the embedded systems. In the Invention Studio, they’ve got the big cutting stuff and everything and a little bit of the electronic stuff so that somebody doesn’t have to walk all the way over here if they want to do something small. ”

Each of the three floors of the Van Leer makerspace will have a unique purpose.

“There will be one floor that’s electronic prototyping,” Ferri said. Another floor will be dedicated to embedded systems, and the basement will have fabrication equipment. The ECE department is also taking steps in order to prepare students to best utilize the new space.

“We’ve created a new organization called PACE, Prototyping and Circuits Education,” said Ferri. “It’s a student-run organization that is, as I said, similar to the Invention Studio … We want to build up the expertise as well as just a process — you now, operations — and have this organization which is new figure out how they are going to run themselves.”

“Overall, the makerspace is an $11 million project. To date, we’ve received $3.2 million from Texas Instruments and $2 million from Harris. Much of the rest comes from private donors,” McLaughlin said. “There will definitely be a lot of company involvement. This is exactly the kind of project that many companies want to be a part of.”

“We would love to create a makerspace that’s 50,000 or 100,000 square feet,” McLauglin said. “It’s not crazy to think that way, but it’s going to take some time … the end game is to keep thinking big, to keep going.”