e-Portfolio: The End of the Beginning

When I first walked through the doors of the MakerLab in late January, my expectations were limited only by the farthest reaches of my imagination. I was vaguely familiar with some of the recent applications of such technologies in modern society, particularly those of a medical nature based on my parents professions, but truly had very little background or context for the subject as a whole. Little did I know that this exact mentality acts at the definition, or lack thereof, of the entire maker movement. The ideology behind 3D making is founded in this approach of creating regardless of traditional boundaries or barriers. Therefore, in the early steps of the process, the only true limits that one encounters as a creator are our own predispositions and what we believe is and is not possible.

We explored this mindset through a series of creative exercises with representatives from the UIUC chapter of Design for America, a session which afforded me a new outlook on the ideating process. Through a variety of untraditional scenario prompts, we were asked to innovate freely, without binding ourselves to what we know as feasible or even remotely possible. Although many of the products that resulted would likely never succeed in the market if they were indeed even able to be produced, it was our first introduction to the type of mindset necessary in order to break down the mental boundaries that prevent even the smartest individuals from acting as true inventors. This translated well into our next lecture, where we were introduced to the concept of biohacking – I had never even imagined many of the projects before, and was fascinated by the idea of utilizing organic materials to create everyday products in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly fashion.

After harnessing the true power and breadth of the maker movement through these various presentations and experiences, we then began to take a more hands on approach to innovating, as we learned how to implement Arduinos, coding, soldering, and laser engraving to create interactive wooden boxes that we designed and compiled individually, with the help of the Champaign Urbana Fab Lab staff. These sessions were my favorite part of the course, as they not only afforded me new skills (ones which I admittedly may not have pursued on my own) but introduced many simple yet effective ways in which they could be implemented in one’s daily life, both as a maker and otherwise. Although the product that my team created did not have any practical application for these particular skills, they are certainly ones that I would like to further develop on my own time (especially soldering.) Finally, we were introduced to the capabilities of 3D scanning by Arielle, a former student who has been able to utilize this technology in her own business, one which she started based on her final project for the course. The ability to scan opens up a new dimension to iterative creating and also improves one’s ability to make slight adjustments to a pre-existing physical item.

The final leg of the course was devoted to the development of our team projects, during which time my team, SUPRA, developed a new take on a door jar (inspired by the constant disruptions during our class sessions that result from the heavy, auto-locking doors on the MakerLab.) Although the concept behind our product was simple, we went through several iterations of designing and prototyping before coming to our final model. One unexpected twists from my perspective was the importance of material selection – a design can be completely faultless, but a product can still fail if the selected material is not compliant with the function it needs to serve. In our case, we encountered issues both functionally and aesthetically when using the normal plastic from the 3D printers, as it was too brittle for our needs. For this reason, a portion of our final design was printed using flex, a decision that greatly improved the quality and performance of our product.

Overall, my experience in the course was eye-opening, and left me with the vaguest sense of dissatisfaction – not with the course, but with myself, for not accomplishing more throughout the course of the semester. With such amazing and innovative technologies at my fingertips, I wish I did not have to deal with time, financial, and other types of constraints that have prevented me from what I otherwise may have been able to create. I am so excited to be working for a company next year that not only has access to similar technologies, but utilizes them to implement creative business solutions each and every day. From where I stand now, I can see that this course has only been the beginning – I hope that it serves as a springboard into a career where I can constantly challenge myself to utilize these technologies in new and innovative ways to provide solutions that did not exist before.

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About Veronika

I am a senior studying Finance and ISIT, and am working full time as a Consulting Analyst following my graduation. In my free time, I enjoy photography, reading novels, cooking, and running.

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