On many college campuses, makerspaces have become a hub of creativity and innovation. While each university uses a different model to manage upkeep and safety in their makerspace, several schools have taken up an open access model, allowing any student to use the space with little or no previous training. This open environment may facilitate a sense of belonging for students, which has been shown to improve retention, particularly for underrepresented groups. Additionally, those working in these spaces may gain skills crucial for developing engineers. Makerspace users have reported an improvement in their ability to communicate engineering principles, especially to non-engineers. Makerspaces may also allow students an opportunity to become acquainted with the design process through trial and error while developing design skills through fabrication. To engage students in these spaces, some curricula require the use of the space for certain design courses (such as the program studied herein), while other schools have kept space use as an optional perk for students. This leads to several questions about what impacts these spaces are making on the students, what kind of students are choosing to partake in makerspaces use, what factors drive students to initially and continually participate in makerspaces, and what is the impact that involvement has on the development of design skills.
Participation in academic makerspaces has been studied, but the empirical data of how students are impacted is limited. In an effort to better understand the impact of involvement in academic makerspaces, a longitudinal study on students at three different universities has been carried out over the last four years. Data was collected from students through the use of surveys and collection of GPA and retention data. Students were tracked throughout their respective programs to observe how changes in involvement correlated to changes in factors such as retention and engineering design self-efficacy. This paper gives an overview of the entire study and presents results including trends in voluntary involvement in academic makerspaces over the course of each program and how these trends correlate to other measured factors.
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