Clark undergrad's LEEP project gives new meaning to hands-on learning

Junior explores designing, creating and operating an on-campus makerspace
October 25, 2016

When Alexander Vesenka ’18 isn’t busy making people laugh, he’s busy “making” in a whole different sense. The member of the Peapod Squad improvisational group boasts a student-designed major in industrial design, a combined study of studio art, physics and entrepreneurship that he describes as “the practice of creating products that are ergonomic and aesthetic to the consumer, and efficiently made by the producer.” Because his major covers three different departments, Vesenka has three advisers: Amy Whitney in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Charles Agosta in Physics and Kevin McGerigle in Visual and Performing Arts.

This summer, Vesenka worked on his LEEP project — a quest to design, create and operate a “makerspace” on Clark’s campus. He describes makerspace as “a room or set or rooms that house equipment to work with different media like wood, metal, electronics or jewelry.” The University has no such space, he notes.

Through his major, Vesenka hopes to apply his skills to achieving his dream job: becoming a bed and breakfast owner. Here, he speaks about his unique major and his mission to help Clark become maker-friendly.

What does industrial design mean to you?

I like to think of industrial design as the practice of inventing and making useful art. I really love creating art, and so much of my art is something that is supposed to be used. I wanted to encapsulate this in a major at a liberal arts school.

How did you figure out you wanted to major in this area?

I’ve always liked to make things. When I applied to college I knew I would either be studying cooking or making, and the latter option won because I wanted to continue with passions like acting as well.

How did you conduct research about makerspaces to plan your project?

I surveyed Clark students to find out what resources they wanted, examined existing assets, like the Sculpture Studio and the Craft Studio on campus and why they aren’t enough, and visited makerspaces that were both part and not a part of colleges. The existing workshops just don’t have enough space or equipment to practice many skills. They are also dedicated to specific classes whose students are often the only ones who can use the spaces. Technocopia and the Worceshop are both makerspaces in Worcester. I talked to the operators about their struggles with space, membership and funding to name a few subjects. In addition, I had conversations with the people who operate makerspaces at the University of New England and Quinsigamond Community College about their equipment and operation policies.

What have you learned from the makerspaces around Worcester that you have applied to your project?Alexander Vesenka Vesenka works on a project in a Little Center workshop.

The operators of every makerspace I visited claimed two main goals. The first goal is to provide the ability to equipment share, since machinery costs so much and takes up so much space. The second goal is to create a community around the space and tools — people can come be a part of it, feel connected, and share knowledge as well. I think this second goal is very important, but community exists in so many other forms in college. Not every student necessarily needs another one. Therefore, I want to focus on safe equipment sharing, and I think the second goal will be met naturally. I also kept a record of what sorts of equipment each makerspace had, like metal lathes and mills, jewelry-making equipment and tools to work on bikes. My hope is to eventually incorporate hard-to-get tools like these into the Clark Makerspace.

What would the makerspace look like?Alexander Vesenka's example makerspace floor planVesenka's makerspace floor plan

Space is the main issue because Clark is an urban campus. The Clark Makerspace would hopefully consist of a large room, around 500 square feet, which has big, sturdy work surfaces in the middle, and specific sections for various equipment around the sides. This way, students can work with many different media like wood and metal, and combine them to see what happens. There would be ample storage for student projects and lots of safety precautions like sinks, ventilation and dust collection. At right is an example floor plan.

Why is this useful for you and for the Clark community as a whole?

Industrial design is so much about prototyping and designing that such a space would of course be useful to me, but it would also be useful to anyone who enjoys making useful objects, art, crafts or fixing things. Almost every student is involved in a club or class that will eventually need to make something. Creating things is the essence of effective practice.

Can you talk a little bit more about “effective practice”?

In all fields of study, the actual application of knowledge requires the making of something. Sometimes the thing that needs to be made is already built for us; for example, a machine that allows a psychology experiment to be done. This is fine, but why can't we have the knowledge to make what we need as well? This translates to everyday life. We should have the means to make something that will make our lives easier, like a chair — or to fix one. This is effectively practicing self-sustainability and life.

How has this major allowed you to “Challenge Convention. Change our World”?

So much of what we learn and study is about the big stuff. How people think and take action; what is happening in this crazy world. My major allows me to focus on the stuff we use and do everyday. I want to make living in the moment better.