Styrofoam, golf tees, pipe cleaners, colored paper, acrylic paint, string, ribbon and other supplies usually are not associated with Virology, the study of viruses. At the University of Northern Iowa, these materials are central to Dr. Michael Walter’s teaching of Virology.
Walter, an associate professor within the department of Biology, requires his students to create models of viruses each semester. In the past, he would buy the resources for students himself and store them within the Virus and Bacteriology lab. That changed when the MakerSpace opened inside the Rod Library in March 2016.
Virology students utilized the MakerSpace to create models of viruses.
“When I came over to the MakerSpace after it was renovated, I said “Oh, yeah this is a slam dunk. We need to have them work over here," said Walter. “It makes a lot of sense to have that space be used a lot now that it has been opened up for that kind of work, and I think we are a perfect match for it.”
The MakerSpace was one of the many renovations that have occurred in the Rod Library recently, and was made possible through a R.J. McElroy Trust grant. The space, which used to be a computer lab, is open to both UNI students and community members, and fosters creativity and collaboration. The area, located in the northeast corner of the main floor in Rod Library, is designed for building projects, maker meetings, and arts and crafts projects. It also houses the library's 3D printer.
“The learning that happens in this type of space is essential to student success in the real world,” said Dr. Chris Cox, dean of Library Services. “All these interdisciplinary, critical thinking, and success skills merge in one place where students can access all those things. We are filling the niche as the connecter and as a place where some of those 'soft' skills can be enhanced.”
In addition to utilizing the MakerSpace, Walter also used the library staff to link him with the Department of Art.
“That's what the role of the library is — to help with the student’s success,” said Gail Bunz, the Leaning Commons coordinator within the Rod Library. “We want to help to create these collaborations, so once Michael mentioned it we got in touch with some of our contacts to see. Since our library faculty have those connections, it's easy.”
Walter was referred to Dan Perry, an instructor of sculpture.
“I was contacted by Michael about wanting to, in conjunction with the MakerSpace, help his students create more interesting models of viruses,” Perry said. “He talked a lot about them being active organisms and how we can get that implied into a stagnate model.”
Perry presented to Walter’s class about the different aspects of creating models before the students began creating their own virus models from materials within the MakerSpace.
The result was better projects, but Walter saw more than that. He saw more engaging learning experiences for his students.
Walter added, “When students come in the MakerSpace they don't have their defined spaces, so what I saw in terms of interaction was advice being given one table to the next, and they were bouncing ideas off each other all over the place. They definitely benefit from it just based on the questions they would ask. I never felt like I got the back and forth in other spaces as I did in the MakerSpace. To me that's a big metric.”
Virology and art don’t usually mix. Thanks to the MakerSpace inside the Rod Library they do at the University of Northern Iowa.
“It's good for students to see that by opening yourself up to other ideas and ways to doing things that you can be more successful,” said Perry. “Collaborative spaces, MakerSpaces, are going to be a big help to developing students way of thinking about how they can go about solving problems and creating new ideas and innovations.”