Recognizing the need to bolster development in New Hampshire and nationwide, US Senator Maggie Hassan introduced a bipartisan bill in February to support business incubators and makerspaces. She recently visited Plymouth State’s new Draper & Maynard Makerspace to share observations with President Birx and other members of the University community.
The Makerspace accounts for over 2,000 square feet on D&M’s first floor, including an area devoted to PSU’s new Electromechanical Technology and Robotics discipline. Plasma and laser cutters, a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) table, a pipe bender, and 3D printers are among the site’s state-of-the-industry equipment. As PSU’s newest Open Laboratory, it’s a place for learning, experimenting, and collaborating.
“These are the kind of skills people need. I hear this from businesses and researchers all the time.”
“Using the tools that are available here, students have the ability to imagine and create what they want to build, from the design aspect all the way through to actual implementation and build-out,” said President Donald Birx.
Bret Kulakovich of Plymouth State designed the Makerspace, and he provided an insider’s tour of the facility. One of Senator Hassan’s first stops was a digital workstation staffed by Student Fellow Jess Sullivan ’20, who was designing with Fusion 360 Computer Aided Design/Manufacturing software. Sullivan’s current projects include work for a cybersecurity startup and a collaboration benefiting drivers.
“These are the kind of skills people need,” said Senator Hassan. “I hear this from businesses and researchers all the time.”
Together with Accessible Racing, a Plymouth-based nonprofit, charitable firm specializing in driving simulators headed by Brian Hanaford, PSU is developing a new accessibility device to provide impaired drivers with greater independence. Kulakovich and Sullivan, together with Accessible Racing, have been invited to demo a prototype for Shriners Hospitals for Children and the VA Medical Center, Boston.
The Makerspace, together with the ingenuity of its students and staff, has the ability to manufacture many new and necessary designs. Using the ShopBot CNC machine, Kulakovich recently rendered the facility’s first printed circuit board (PCB), and is planning to use other equipment to produce a custom medical device that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive.
These individual accomplishments will be accompanied by regional advances, as plans call for opening the Makerspace to more local industries over the next year. The facility’s multiple capabilities are increasing the services that Plymouth State can offer area entrepreneurs, businesses, and nonprofits, as well as towns across central New Hampshire and the North Country.
In keeping with the University’s Integrated Clusters emphasis on interdisciplinarity, the Makerspace is open to all majors and interests. This struck a chord with Senator Hassan, who re-counted her visits to large manufacturing facilities where interdisciplinary teamwork goes into making a single product.
“We’re all going to need to learn to be able to do multiple things over the course of our careers,” she said. “Getting a static set of skills and thinking we’re done is not going to happen again.”
This concept is woven into PSU curriculum, stirring student interest and responding to marketplace demands. “The more I talk to people who are running businesses in this day and age, the more I hear the need for people who are interdisciplinary by nature,” said Senator Hassan.
Professor Phil Lonergan teaches art classes in the Makerspace, which give students access to technologies that many have never previously encountered. “Students might not be coming to PSU to be trained how to bend pipe, but rather how to manage the process,” he said. “This gives students some exposure into how things are made in industry today with current digital tools.
“The nice thing about all this equipment is that it’s industry standard,” he continued. “Students get experience regarding current manufacturing and also build their problem-solving skills, which is part of Cluster learning.”
“This is a very different kind of art class,” added President Birx. “Part of this opportunity is that students get training in so many different areas that they have background that allows them to do lots of different things. This is the same reason we are giving students the opportunity to get a background in innovation and entrepreneurship, to have the mix of skills they need so they can actually have a career that they can grow themselves.”
The Incubator Network and Startup Success Act, introduced by Senator Hassan and Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, aims to support innovative startups across the country by establishing a competitive grant program for incubator networks. “We want to make sure that entrepreneurs and people who want to learn different skills or perhaps start a business can do it even if they’re in a rural area,” said Senator Hassan.
PSU couldn’t agree more, given its commitment of service to the North Country and the greater region.