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When our students learn using not only their heads, but also their hands and their hearts, the product is not just a physical artifact, but also knowledge, intuition, and character. Every Stanford student deserves the opportunity to learn by doing, from political scientists to product designers, developing skills, creativity, and confidence they will draw upon throughout their lives. We envision a campus connected through making, with makerspaces forming communities of interdisciplinary collaboration that embody the diversity and inclusivity of our University. We can realize this vision for making@stanford by supporting the people that mentor our student makers, enabling accessible making courses in every discipline, and building connections between making communities across campus.

What is physical design and making?

It is the transformation of material in order to transform thinking. It is a student working on a meaningful problem, defining their own goals, applying their knowledge, developing creative solutions, realizing them in physical form, and reflecting on the experience. This process takes many forms in many disciplines. It can mean designing and creating mechanical, electrical, or biological systems out of metals, components, or cells, measuring their behavior, and learning from unexpected results. It can mean envisioning an aesthetic, welding, connecting, or sculpting materials into form, and noticing the spaces and emotional responses that are generated. It can mean designing a musical instrument and hearing its timbre, creating a new food and tasting its biochemistry, or using ancient fabrication methods to feel part of an early civilization. Physical design and making is a student engaging with a medium and experiencing the outcome in ways that make real and tangible what was once virtual and conceptual.

1. Physical design and making enhances a liberal arts education

Physical creation plays a special role in human learning. The integration of thinking with doing engages the whole person, deepening intellectual involvement while catalyzing creativity. Struggling with the real features of meaningful problems develops critical soft skills – resilience, flexibility, and persistence – while the creative application of knowledge enhances student self-efficacy. Physical design and making is an essential complement to other learning modes that are more theoretical or virtual. It may not be the optimal way for every student to learn in every discipline, but it is worthy of exploration by any student in any field. Physical design and making has been a central feature of our teaching since Stanford opened its doors more than 125 years ago. Many alumni cite design and making experiences as the high point of their time at Stanford and pivotal to their careers.

2. Learning in any discipline can be enhanced by making

With leading educators in the humanities, arts, sciences, and engineering, Stanford is unique in its disciplinary diversity, and each field offers opportunities to enhance learning through physical design and making. For students in many applied technical fields, there is no substitute for iteratively designing, making, and testing physical prototypes. But designing and making physical artifacts can also deepen theoretical understanding for pure scientists, enhance emotional evaluations for designers, and provide new modalities for aesthetic exploration by studio artists, theater producers, and musicians. Even economists, biologists, diplomats, historians, and poets can learn more by making, experiencing value chains, living systems, intelligence gathering, ancient cultures, or modern literature in new ways.

3. Makerspaces create communities that connect our diverse campus

Building together creates bonds between people. Shared design and making experiences imbue our students with feelings of agency, empowerment, and belonging, especially for students from marginalized and underrepresented groups. Makerspaces are centers of interdisciplinary interaction, where sculptors learn from systems engineers and theoretical physicists learn from theater crew, cross-pollination that breeds thoughtful and empathetic leaders. They are places where students learn by teaching, support each other through challenges, and build lasting bonds. As we emerge from a pandemic of virtual interactions, the importance of our makerspaces in building our campus community has never been clearer.