The Charger Blog

Mechanical Engineering Graduate Student Passionate About Showing University Community Unlimited Potential of New Makerspace

Austin Thomas ’19, ’21 M.S. has helped manage the University of New Haven’s makerspace for four years, and he’s particularly excited about how its move to the state-of-the-art Bergami Center for Science, Technology, and Innovation will provide new opportunities for all students.

November 7, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of Austin Thomas at an engineering holiday activity
Austin Thomas preparing circuit boards as part of a holiday activity in the makerspace.

When the University of New Haven first opened its makerspace in Buckman Hall four years ago, Austin Thomas ’19, ’21 M.S. was excited when his professor, Maria-Isabel Carnasciali, Ph.D., asked him to help manage it. He has been actively involved with the space ever since.

Thomas envisioned a space that was staffed and managed by students and was accessible to everyone. That, he says, is exactly what it has become. As part of a team of students that helps run the makerspace, Thomas manages the day-to-day operations. He has become intimately familiar with the cutting-edge technology available in the space, including 3D printers and laser cutters, and he has used the equipment to create his own projects.

Image of Austin Thomas and Simon Hutchinson.
Austin Thomas (left) shows Simon Hutchinson, Ph.D., how to use a laser cutter.

“It is different from a lab that is managed by a professor,” explains Thomas, a candidate in the University’s graduate program in mechanical engineering. “Students learn about the opportunities available to them in the makerspace in a variety of ways, including word of mouth. It’s like a library in that it offers something for everyone and is a place where all students can come together.”

This semester, the makerspace became even more of a central hub for students across all disciplines to collaborate, conceive, and create. The space was moved to the University’s new Bergami Center for Science, Technology, and Innovation, which opened at the beginning of the fall semester.

The makerspace enables students to work with a variety of materials, including wood and sheet metal. Thomas was long looking forward to the opening of the new makerspace, excited about the opportunities it would offer him and his fellow students, and the additional cutting-edge tools that would be available.

“It is a bigger space, and I hope students know that it is accessible to everyone,” he said. “It is not owned by one group of people. The makerspace is for all students.”

Image of Austin Thomas helping a student during a makerspace activity.
Austin Thomas (right) helps a student iron a custom decal onto a bag as part of a makerspace activity.
‘Being able to help students see their work come to life is incredible’

Thomas especially enjoys the interdisciplinary nature of the space, and he is passionate about sharing the technology and capabilities with students across the University community. An integral part of engineering students’ learning, the space, Thomas says, is increasingly being used by students in a variety of fields of study.

Students in the University’s art and design, program are using the space, and the University offers courses that enable students to create digital projects and produce physical representations of them in the makerspace. Thomas has worked directly with art and design students, training them, for example, on how to use the laser cutter.

“Being able to help students see their work come to life is incredible,” he said. “As an engineer, I see things as straight-forward. Art students find inspiration everywhere, such as in a sheet of paper. This got me excited since I realized I could help them make their ideas a reality. Seeing their faces light up inspired me to introduce more students to the makerspace.”

Austin Thomas helping students understand how electronics work.
Austin Thomas (front) helps some of his fellow engineering students “tear down” electronics to see how they work.

Now a Tagliatela College of Engineering graduate assistant in his last semester of graduate school, Thomas is continuing to explore the limitless potential of the makerspace and develop ways to add depth to students’ experience as part of his independent study. He is exploring the needs and perceptions of students in different majors and developing courses on topics such as design software and electronics. He hopes fostering inclusivity, innovation, and excitement for the makerspace is the legacy he leaves for future students.

“We can create some incredible projects if we put our heads together,” he said. “I want to help students use these tools so they can bring their great ideas to life. We interact with technology and design no matter what field we are in.”