Feature Friday: “Making” a Difference in The Makery

Posted on: February 10, 2023

Steve Aderton is a long-time friend of JMU Libraries. He was a student employee in The Makery for two years, helping students and faculty to use technologies like 3-D printers, virtual reality headsets, and laser cutters. He came back as a staff member after graduating and now works in JMU University Marketing & Branding. 

In this week’s Feature Friday Q&A, you will hear about exciting projects by students, staff, faculty, and community members that were made possible by the technologies in The Makery, with help from friendly, knowledgeable staff like Steve.

Q&A with Stephen

What were some of the most interesting things you got to do in The Makery?

The Makery gave me a chance to do all of these really funky things that you wouldn’t necessarily think exists in a library setting – 3D printing and virtual reality, and 3D scanning and podcasting. I also got to work on some projects that had an academic connection. For example, Andrew Witmer in the History department collaborated with The Makery and the digital projects team in the Libraries to do a virtual spaces project – recreating historic spaces in 3D and giving tours in VR (virtual reality) as part of a history class. Professor Andrew Witmer also had a Religious History course, and part of that course was to 3D print religious objects or “objects of faith” as we call them, so you would have people printing or 3D scanning or designing daruma dolls, for example, and then printing those out and having a physical thing that you could hold in your hand and look at to get a sense of what that object feels like in a tangible sense, not just in a textbook. 

What’s your favorite piece of technology in The Makery?

Oh man, I could have found something really clever and smart, but I don’t know if you can beat 3D printing. It’s so fun – it’s rapid prototyping, it’s creating desk knick knacks, it’s getting gifts for family and friends – it’s such a flexible medium. It’s usually not something that most people have access to, but at JMU, anyone can go to The Makery and say, “I want to 3D print something,” and by the time they leave, they can have a print started. That, to me, is really special. It’s especially cool how 3D printing has a wide range of applications. The History program uses it as an educational tool. Other departments work with The Makery for rapid prototyping for machinery. Some courses even worked with The Makery to have students print instruments. 3D printing is an awesome starting point, because you can combine that technology with so many other fields and applications, and it really makes it seem like the possibilities are infinite.

What were some of the most fulfilling projects you worked on?

We worked on some community projects also, for example, we worked with one of the local elderly care centers to present VR to folks who had never seen that before. It was meant as a jumping off point so they could develop their own program. Because we were so set up for that already in The Makery, they reached out to us and asked if we could essentially give them a couple of workshops. It’s really rewarding to see people’s faces light up when they’re in that kind of experience. 

How did your Libraries experience impact your life?

I think that one of the things that working with The Makery has solidified for me was this realization that I could have a positive impact through my career. I could do work that wouldn’t just be beneficial for me, but it would be beneficial for the people around me, and in my community. My favorite part about The Makery and one of my favorite parts about JMU Libraries is how inclusive and welcoming it is. Anyone from any field of study and any background is welcome to go to The Makery and try making stuff. They can take a workshop on sewing, they can take classes in 3D modeling and 3D printing – it doesn’t necessarily have to be attached to a specific academic course or major. Everyone’s welcome.

What’s the thing that you’re proudest of from your time in the Libraries?

Every time that I got to see a patron go from an idea in their head to holding something in their hand, that was a real sort of proud moment. It’s so uplifting to see people realize how creative they are. I helped teach this laser cutting workshop – it was really simple. You would choose a topic or a shape – sometimes people chose seasonal things, so if it was fall it would be a leaf, if it was winter, a snowflake. They would learn how to convert that into an SVG file and then laser cut out the design as a little take-home token, a physical representation of all their work that day. These workshops were only like an hour long, but you would see people just light up over the course of the experience. Some people are like, “Oh, I don’t know how to design. I don’t have any experience with laser cutting,” and then they end up realizing, “Oh, I can do this!” Those are really the proudest moments for me.

So, we can’t let you go without asking about your favorite local attraction or restaurant.

Oh no, oh dear. I eat a lot of Bella Luna, but I also eat a lot of Billy Jacks and I also eat a lot of Beyond. Downtown Harrisonburg is really, really a special place for me. If you’re looking for restaurants, you just can’t go wrong, but as far as local attractions go, my wife and I have a season pass for Shenandoah National Park, and we love to go hiking with our friends there. We’re so close to all these great hikes, between Shenandoah and Skyline Drive and even a little closer to home with George Washington National Park. It’s a great place to live if you want to get out there, have a nice weekend hiking, and still be back for whatever the week offers by Monday.

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