White House calls for ‘generation of makers’; finds ‘maker’ culture thriving at Yale

When the White House wanted to celebrate American DIY ingenuity, Yale’s Kyle Vanderlick and Paul Anastas were on the guest list.

Vanderlick, dean of Yale’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Anastas, the Yale professor widely known as the “father of green chemistry,” appeared June 18 at the first-ever White House Maker Faire, an event featuring more than 100 innovators and entrepreneurs of all ages from 25 states.

In conjunction with the event, Yale signed a joint letter with more than 150 other universities pledging to support and promote “makers” — DIY hobbyists, students, enthusiasts, and professionals who use cutting-edge tools to drive manufacturing and technology creation.

“‘Making’ is an important component of Yale’s culture of engineering,” said Vanderlick. “The university has continued to promote that culture through initiatives such as the Center for Engineering Innovation & Design (CEID), a hub of making that attracts students from all disciplines.”

Anastas noted: "In many ways, the event at the White House was a direct endorsement of the efforts that Yale has been putting in place to make innovation, making, and entrepreneurship available and appealing to students and faculty alike.

“President Obama recognized the kind of innovation ecosystem that Yale is establishing through the basic research, the Center for Engineering and Innovation Design, Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, business planning, technology transfer at the Office of Cooperative Research, and venture capital support," he said.

The CEID is home to a number of the technologies most often used by makers, including a laser cutter, 3D printers, a machine shop, and plenty of open studio space where students can work.

“The CEID gives students the tools and mentoring they need to bring their ideas into reality,” said center director Eric Dufresne, associate professor of mechanical engineering & materials science, physics, and cell biology. “Through the synergy of 21st-century tech and four dedicated professional staff available for one-on-one training and advising, we help students turn inspired ideas into innovative projects.”

For that reason, the 8,500-square-foot center is often the space of choice for clubs such as Yale Undergraduate Aeronautics Association and Yale Intelligent Vehicles as they design and assemble their projects. A number of design-based classes, including “Medical Device Design & Innovation,” are also held in CEID classrooms.

The CEID reaches far beyond the walls of the School of Engineering, with a current membership of more than 1,700 students, faculty, and staff representing every major and graduate school at Yale. The CEID offers not only space and equipment, but also courses, workshops, and technical training sessions that empower students with no previous technical experience.

“The CEID represents a new class of ‘makerspace — an ‘academic makerspace,’” said Joseph Zinter, assistant director of the center. “Whether it’s developing a new technology to improve human lives or simply fixing one’s bike, the CEID enables members to engage with and shape the world around them. It’s a haven for the next generation of innovators.”

Similar to a science fair, the White House Maker Faire — part of the Obama administration's emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills — was a day-long festival of more than 30 exhibits that showcased the breadth of America’s small-scale, cutting-edge manufacturing. During the event, the White House also announced that 13 federal agencies are teaming up with companies like Etsy and Kickstarter to provide Americans access to startup capital and the kinds of tools most often used by makers.