The Makerspace: A Community of Learners, Teachers, and Doers

Luke Fairbanks '18, president of Rhodes Engineering

For senior Luke Fairbanks from Baton Rouge, LA, coming to college meant getting to explore how his academic interests would lead him down new paths. “I came to Rhodes because I had a feeling I would thrive in an environment that pushed me from the standpoint of physics and math, in addition to the top-notch liberal arts,” Fairbanks recalls.

Once at Rhodes, Fairbanks became heavily involved in the Society of Physics Students (SPS), particularly through their scientific outreach to schools around Memphis. While he’s still an active member of SPS, Fairbanks also is one of the founding members of Rhodes Engineering. Now, as the president of the club, he and the rest of the members spend much of their time in an ideal place for designers and builders: the Makerspace.

The Makerspace is a workshop created in the summer of 2015 in Room 401 (the Advanced Lab) of Rhodes Tower, which officially belongs to the Department of Physics. Overseen by Rhodes Engineering, the Makerspace is outfitted with equipment ranging from your basic soldering iron to a 3-D printer and a laser cutter. While the majority of people who use the space are members of the club, other students are welcome to use the equipment in the room once they have learned how.

“We have some people who are very into physics, we have others involved in chemistry, and then we also have artists, because we have some equipment that they don’t have in the art department,” explains Fairbanks. “A huge part of what we do is teach people how to use these tools. When we first started, I didn’t know how to build anything at all. We’ve all slowly learned how to do things like 3D modeling and things of that nature. My favorite part about the workshop is that we are not only privileged enough to be given such fantastic tools to learn with, but also the trust and freedom to serve as the caretakers of the space.”

The club’s annual airplane project showcases how much the members learn as a team. Over the course of three years, the members of Rhodes Engineering have worked toward designing and fabricating a radio-controlled aircraft to compete in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautic’s “Design, Build, Fly” international competition. “A few years ago, we would sit around arguing about how to build the plane and not actually getting anything done. We realized that we needed to do research, and each year we have discovered more and more through this project,” says Fairbanks. Being one of the few teams from a liberal arts school in the competition, the club works tirelessly to prove themselves against their competitors. “Many of the teams from state schools have engineering departments that teach them specific skills related to design and assembly, whereas we learned from personal research and through finding the right mentors.”

As for the future of the Makerspace, Fairbanks hopes that more people will cultivate their own work in the space, regardless of their majors or passions. “The small group of us have come so far in terms of designing and building machines, but there is so much more potential inherent in the workshop. I hope as time goes on, more students find their way to the Makerspace and build something of their own.”

By Ellie Johnson ’20