The dust will settle for decades on the impacts of the pandemic, but one trend was noticeable immediately.
According to the Census Bureau, there were 281,692 business license applications in July 2019. A year later, in the throes of the economic havoc the pandemic wrought, that number jumped to 558,688 applications, an all-time high.
Entrepreneurship doesn’t show any signs of slowing, either. In July 2021 alone, there were 454,460 license applications.
If there is a do-it-yourself ethos gripping the country, one part of campus is primed to develop those head-down, hands-on skills in students: UNLV Libraries’ Makerspace and Multimedia Production Studios.
Opened in summer 2019, the Makerspace gave students access to 3D printers, a laser cutter, sewing machines, hand tools, a vinyl cutter, workbenches; and complete audio and visual studios for podcasting, vlogging, music recording, and more.
The space steadily gained popularity among students and by February 2020 it had doubled its traffic since opening.
“Professors introduced it to their students to try one-off-like projects, and then we started to see those students come back and work on either other class projects or transition into personal projects,” said Richard “R.C.” Wonderly, who helped launch the Makerspace as its making and innovation specialist.
But, in a common refrain, the facility was forced to pull back through the pandemic year. Wonderly led student discussions on a Discord channel, but it’s hard to replicate a learning environment virtually when the whole point of it was to be hands-on in the first place.
Those behind the Makerspace development are banking on it recouping the momentum it had a year and a half ago. UNLV is growing makerspace opportunities beyond Lied Library, and beyond its role in supporting student learning.
At UNLV’s Harry Reid Research and Technology Park, a makerspace is available to students in several classes, or to a cohort using the newly launched UNLV Incubator at Hughes Center.
That space also sports 3D printing and vinyl cutting stations, as well as a studio with green screen for photo and video shoots.
Wonderly recently left the Lied space to take over the one at Harry Reid, which will be aimed at an audience of more experienced makers including community members. It features larger 3D printers, a computer numeric control router for detailed woodworking projects, a clamshell press for printing on T-shirts, and more.
“The Small Business Development Center and their clientele are going to be able to use that makerspace to make prototypes and work on items for their businesses,” Wonderly said.
And, he points out, that the space will be key to helping UNLV’s alumni build on what they started on campus. “The other thing that they will be able to do out there is, once the students graduate, they lose their access to different facilities on campus. The [Harry Reid Center] space would be another lab that would be available to them once they graduate.”
The School of Architecture and College of Engineering both have their own small makerspace strictly for their students. Engineering has long outgrown its fabrication lab, and it is also planning a makerspace in the new Advanced Engineering Building, targeted for a fall 2023 open.
Bolstered by a $1 million grant from the Gene Haas Foundation, the engineering space aims to be open 24 hours a day to students and approved community members. It will occupy nearly 4,000 square feet on the first floor of the building and will include 3D printers, laser cutters, tabletop mills, and computers with design software.
Not only will it be a resource for engineering students working on the Senior Design Competition, but it can even be used by elementary and secondary students to expose them to work in STEM fields.
Having multiple spaces creates a pipeline for makers — and for students trained to work in makerspaces — to engage with these facilities from their first tentative entrepreneurial steps to more confident strides toward their own business.
It will be a series of interconnected spaces where young entrepreneurs can take chances, maybe laying groundwork for the billion-dollar ideas of tomorrow.
“In the maker mindset, we try to normalize failure here,” Wonderly said. “It’ll be nice to have a network of makerspaces. A long-term goal for me is not just what we’re going to do in this space, but campuswide in terms of being able to serve different communities and being able to help folks navigate manufacturing a prototype, but if they want to go mass produce, then maybe there’s somebody else on campus that can help them with that.”
As students get ready to climb back in the saddle and woodcut, sew, 3D print, and podcast their way to a new semester of creativity and productivity, it’s a good time to look back at what kinds of projects have already come out of the Makerspace to see where new ones may go.
Get Your Kicks
Mr. Tumnus is a faun of conflicted loyalties at the start of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He’s also a faun of some serious hooves.
When then-grad student and now MFA alumnus Brian Hollander was working on costumes for a 2019 stage production of the C.S. Lewis classic at the Judy Bayley Theatre, he took a good, hard look at how other costume designers had solved the Tumnus problem.
“Quite often because of lack of technology or even skillsets, they would just create a facade over the actor’s shoe. So the actor would just stand normal and it looks clunky. It doesn’t look realistic. A lot of times they just fall flat.”
But Hollander, who had recently taken the orientation at the Makerspace, realized that 3D printing could be the solution.
Guided by theatre professor David Shouse, Hollander worked through six prototypes of the hooves over a couple of months. When finally it came time for actor Andrew Calvert to don the faun boots, there may have been a hint of trepidation, but Calvert was game and got into a proper rhythm for cavorting.
“There’s definitely a feeling out process. It’s new tech,” Hollander said. “He was tentative at first, but by the end of it, the actor said that he felt so comfortable. He was running around and jumping on stage with the hooves. We put dance rubber on the bottom to give them traction, but for someone who was unsure in the beginning to (be able to) run and jump is really cool.”
Now that he’s graduated, Hollander is splitting time between Las Vegas and his hometown of Leavenworth, Washington, where he’s tackling freelance projects including a Christmas production to take place in the Bavarian village east of Seattle.
His 3D-printed costume part is an impressive piece in Hollander’s portfolio, and it’s helping him get noticed by clients who are beginning to understand there’s a whole new frontier out there for theatrical productions. It’s generated enough buzz that now Hollander is aiming to purchase his own printer.
Because the feeling of seeing that work on stage is a feeling he won’t forget.
“It might sound silly, but it’s the joy that something that you’ve created is working. For us in theater, it’s all about storytelling. This is really going to help the audience buy into the story we’re trying to tell because this is a fantasy world. And if you just have people rolling around in, you know, furry britches, it’s not the same. Anything I can do to try to help that process is important to me. So to see it is marvelous.”
Blowin’ in the Wind
Engineering professor Anthony Ferrar challenged students in his class on statics — looking at how force is applied to physical systems that don’t accelerate — to create a blog documenting the processes they went through in the course of an assigned project.
Then-sophomore Nicolas Kosanovic wanted to do something a little flashy with it. And his position as a clarinetist in UNLV’s marching band was the perfect in.
“Originally it was a joke,” he said. “The first barrel I printed was rectangular with sharp edges. But I noticed it wasn’t that bad aside from the fact that I made it a little small.”
Kosanovic had already taken a class in 3D modeling and was familiar with 3D printing, so when it came time to start testing out clarinet barrels (the instrument has several parts, and the barrel sits between the mouthpiece and the keys) he was able to hit the ground running.
It took him a little under three months to tinker through a few prototypes. But when he worked out the details, it was the sweet sound of success.
“I was putting them on plastic clarinets in the marching band and they were actually surprisingly good — better than the stock barrels that these clarinets come with,” Kosanovic said. “There were tuning issues, but you could remedy that on your own. They played very easy.”
Kosanovic even used some stickers of the UNLV logo to give the barrels a (we’re so sorry) sharp look.
It was such a hit that he routinely would carry a bag full of clarinet barrels for other players in the band who wanted to use them. He even had total strangers start to follow the blog and ask for updates on how the project was going.
One Instagrammer had printed a full clarinet out of plastic but used metal keys — a bit of a cheat. Kosanovic would like to figure out how to do an entire instrument out of 3D printed plastic if he can crack how to make the keys sufficiently springy.
It’s a project that came together because an enthusiastic engineering student jumped on the chance to create something as soon as the facility opened at the library. The mechanical-minded may have keyed in to the potential at the Makerspace early, but it’s a beneficial resource for students coming from less technical programs.
“It was super important because there’s just a lot of tools that people don’t have. Plus, the Makerspace, it’s so oppressively clean,” Kosanovic said. “You should see the robotics lab. If you need a tool, you need basically God to come down from the heavens and be like, ‘It’s over there.’”
Shine a Light
When Aaron Mayes, visual materials curator of the University Libraries Special Collections and Archives, took possession of a series of large-format panoramic photos shot by former Caesars executive Don Paluzzi, there were challenges of preserving decades-old film, of digitizing and categorizing an expansive trove of material — and of figuring out just how in the heck archivists were going to scan in these oversize negatives in the first place.
Mayes had worked with Paluzzi’s family to bring to UNLV more than 600 photos from the late 1970s through the early 2000s of Las Vegas, the Southwest, and beyond.
Working with alumna Amy Check and a grant from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation paved the way for the digitization, but Mayes and Check didn’t have a negative carrier large enough to accommodate the negatives.
They had been shot with Paluzzi’s Cirkut camera, a piece of equipment originally designed in 1905 that sat on a tripod-mounted motorized bed that could take full, 360-degree snaps.
A company specializing in making archiving equipment for libraries could have built a custom carrier, but there was a hefty price tag attached, upwards of $20,000. While the result would have added to the lore, the high-end product was overkill for the one-time project.
“R.C. (Wonderly) was able to whip out something for this one project that worked perfectly for next to nothing,” Mayes said.
Wonderly and his crew used the Makerspace’s laser cutter to make the box, and 3D printed other parts to fit the negatives. A few prototypes later, they were in business.
Mayes and Check used the carrier to digitize hundreds of photos. Now anyone logging into the Special Collections website can check out super-sized views of Las Vegas in the 1970s and 80s.
“We had to think about the safety of the artifact, obviously. I took some measurements of (Mayes’) light table and I worked with two (students) we had employed, a mechanical engineer and a computer science major,” Wonderly said. “We had probably three or four prototypes that we tried out. Aaron was up against deadlines, but we got them to a point where it was good enough because he only needed to run this thing a hundred times. But if we were going to do this a thousand times, he and I would probably go back to the drawing board.”
With a spool of plastic, a few pieces of wood, and some design know-how, Wonderly and Mayes saved the university a five-figure expenditure. DIY: Not just for future tech billionaires in their California garages.
Here Comes the Sun
As a student worker inside the Makerspace, Ann Tang was used to helping people feel their way through the equipment available there.
So when the Girls in Ubiquitous Intelligence and Computing program — a five-week summer camp that pairs middle school and high school girls with students and faculty to strengthen STEM skills — came through, Tang was right there to help navigate a project involving solar power.
“It was awesome,” said the computer engineering senior. “Showing them the ropes and then getting them in a place like the Makerspace and really doing some hands-on things was cool because I’m sure they probably didn’t have access to (this equipment) at their high school.”
One of the high schoolers studied construction and was familiar with AutoCAD. She worked with the group to refine the design of the project and ultimately used the laser cutter in the Makerspace to produce the parts to make a model home to showcase their work.
The group’s solar-intelligent tracker used photoresistor sensors to turn a solar panel on the roof of the model house toward the sun. It was a simple project, but one that let younger students get hands-on with a project in a way they might not otherwise have been able to.
“It was a dope experience,” Tang said. “I felt like mentoring them was one of the best little jobs I signed up for because the Makerspace, not only is it a really cool resource, but it’s a different approach to projects and being able to show them like, Hey, if this doesn’t work, just prototype it again. We have the resources and we can just do it again and again.”