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The making@stanford Initiative

The principles, problems, priorities, and programs guiding the vision of supporting the making community across Stanford campus.

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.


1. Our students cannot access physical design and making education

Although we list nearly one hundred courses involving physical design and making across fourteen degree programs, most courses are walled off by prerequisites, are offered only rarely, or are able to meet only a fraction of student demand. Hundreds of students are denied access to these courses each quarter. Our most popular makerspaces are often overrun, turning students away for lack of room. While the vast majority of students express interest in making courses, only one in three Stanford undergraduates currently experience physical design and making in their academic program. We substantially lag our peer institutions in our support for physical design and making curriculum. The educational benefits of improving access to making at Stanford would be immense.

2. The communities where we support making are disconnected

Our campus benefits from the diversity of more than twenty separate spaces for teaching physical design and making, overseen by more than a dozen departments, each with unique character and culture, and each serving complementary, discipline-specific educational purposes. This separation can, however, be a liability. Students are unaware of many of our makerspaces, and each is limited by either staff, materials, equipment, or space, without mechanisms for sharing resources. Coordinating our making organizations could realize a tremendous potential.


1. Supporting the people that mentor our students in making

A makerspace is not merely a place, and its value is not merely in equipment; the real power flows from teachers who create structured educational experiences and mentors who support students as they engage with material. Teaching physical design and making requires great human energy and creativity, predominantly provided by lecturers, technical staff, and student course assistants. Investing in these making mentors is our first priority as we rise to meet the educational needs of the next generation of leaders. Our faculty also play a vital role, mentoring these mentors and teaching making courses themselves, and should be recognized and rewarded for these activities.

2. Supporting accessible, effective design and making courses in every discipline

To create a making curriculum that excites each student in our diverse undergraduate population requires an equally diverse set of courses in physical design and making. Our first curricular priority is to create new, accessible courses that span many disciplines, each with field-specific learning goals, and each intended to address the learning needs of a different group of students. We also seek to enable more students access to the most popular of our existing courses, add making courses that fill gaps in our degree programs, and provide support to instructors for adding new making elements to their courses. We seek to entice, not require, students to elect to have an educational experience involving physical design and making by creating excellent, appealing educational opportunities for all students.

3. Coordinating the making community at Stanford

Our final priority is to organize. We seek to develop new resources and send them where they are needed most, allowing makerspaces and making courses to overcome current limitations due to staff, equipment, materials, or space, and increasing student access to experiences in physical design and making. We seek to enable specialization, deepening and broadening the making possibilities on campus as a whole. We seek to give all students pathways to access all of our makerspaces, and to raise awareness of these incredible organizations. And we seek, with intention, to cultivate a diverse, supportive, and campus-wide Stanford community united by making.


Supporting the people that mentor our students in making

1. Maker Fellows

Student course assistants that support our students in makerspaces and making courses across campus, meeting regularly to exchange ideas and connect our community. Fellows are selected and trained within their departments, while managed and supported by making@stanford.

2. Making Mentors

Lecturers, teaching staff, and expert practitioners who teach making courses and provide individualized student support in our makerspaces. Mentors work in spaces across campus, meeting regularly to exchange ideas and connect our community. Mentors are selected, trained, and supervised by faculty or staff in their departments and supported by making@stanford.

3. Hands-On Heroes

Incentive program to encourage faculty to spend overload time adding physical design and making to their courses or collaborating with Making Mentors. Prioritizes new course elements, gaps in degree programs, and emerging strategic areas.

4. Making Support Team

Professional staff that make our makerspaces hum, allowing mentors and fellows to spend their time teaching and guiding our students. Specialists in equipment maintenance, material inventory, digital content creation, administration, and program leadership. Staff support all making courses and makerspaces associated with making@stanford.


Creating accessible making courses in every discipline

5. Accessible Making Courses

Courses that use physical design and making to teach concepts from disciplines across the university. Courses are developed by Making Mentors in collaboration with Hands-On Heroes and delivered by Making Mentors and Maker Fellows, utilizing all making@stanford programs. Priority is given to entry-level courses with no prerequisites, courses that address unmet learning needs, courses that address the interests of a new group of students, courses with learning goals beyond the use of making equipment, and courses that add to the diversity of formats. Courses are expected to appeal to students from a wide range of disciplines, including: Aeronautics & Astronautics, Architecture, Art History, Art Practice, Bioengineering, Biology, Chemistry, Communication, Computer Science, Economics, Education, Electrical Engineering, English, History, Human Biology, International Relations, Management Science, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, Medicine, Music, Physics, Political Science, Product Design, Psychology, Robotics, Science Technology & Society, Sustainability, Symbolic Systems, and Theater and Performance Studies.

6. Multiplying Making Courses

Enabling existing popular courses involving physical design and making to grow to meet student demand, making use of the Making Mentors, Maker Fellows and all other making@stanford programs.

7. Making Materials

Materials for student design projects, provided to making courses and makerspaces. Sustainable material sourcing and lifecycle analysis in collaboration with School of Sustainability researchers. Managed by the Making Support Team with input from the entire making@stanford community.

8. Making Equipment

New equipment to allow new making courses and help makerspaces reach their full potential. Prioritizes demonstrated needs and specialization of makerspaces around particular processes, building depth and breadth across the campus as a whole. Managed by the Making Support Team with input from the entire making@stanford community.

9. Making Room

Renovating, reallocating, or expanding makerspaces in which facility features are the critical limiting factor in delivering an excellent educational experience to our students. Finding space for student groups. Managed by the Making Support Team with input from the entire making@stanford community.

10. Technology-Driven Training

Developing new methods that leverage technology for more effective training on basic aspects of making equipment use, including asynchronous videos and digital tutorials accessible while working with equipment. Developed by the Making Support Team with guidance from researchers in education.

11. Process Training Modules

Short in-person sessions providing training on a single fabrication process, delivered by makerspace staff, coordinated to train students in courses from around the University that use these processes to achieve separate, domain-specific learning goals. Developed and taught by Making Mentors.

12. Research on Making in Education

Studying the use of physical design and making to achieve discipline-specific learning goals, develop soft skills, and form community, in our classrooms and in external educational settings. PhD student Fellowship program, supervised by Education faculty and supported by making@stanford.


Coordinating the making community at Stanford

13. Making a Splash

Raising awareness of physical design and making courses, makerspaces, and making@stanford programs through a new course designation (MAKING), classification in existing WAYS categories, pop-up events, installation art, web presence, and social media content. Managed by the Making Support Team with input from the entire making@stanford community.

14. Drawing the Community Together

Organizing stakeholders in physical design and making courses, makerspaces, and student-led groups with regular newsletters, meetings, tours, and events that highlight the creativity and brilliance of our students and the incredible dedication to education that define the community of making@stanford. Managed by the Making Support Team with input from the entire making@stanford community.

15. Building a Diverse and Supportive Community, with Intention

Through making@stanford, we will work together to build supportive communities that welcome every member of our diverse campus and help students through challenging times. We will emphasize outreach to marginalized groups, for example through events with apposite student organizations.

16. Making Advisory Board

Bringing together leaders from beyond our campus to help us identify new ways to achieve our goals and address the most critical educational needs of the next generation of leaders.

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