Tufts MAKE expands into app design, holds workshops for students

It has been a little over a year since Tufts MAKE arrived on the campus scene in January of 2013. A subgroup of the Tufts Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Tufts MAKE began as a club focused on developing assistive technology for people with disabilities. While awaiting official recognition from the Tufts Community Union, the group has expanded into designing and developing apps and offering hands-on workshops to Tufts students.

“The basic idea is that you ‘make,’ not just because it’s fun and a hobby, but because it’s educational,” Andrew Braren, one member of Tufts MAKE, said. “You learn and think about things in a different, kind of creative way.”

According to Tufts MAKE’s website, the club aims to not only create tangible technological projects, like a new app called Tufts Dash that provides information about Tufts events, but also to give students the opportunities to learn about product design and problem solving.

“Our goal was to give people the skills that they need so when they enter the work force they have all these [skills],” Chris Shinn, another member of Tufts MAKE, said. “And that makes them a lot more valuable because [employers] can trust them to be able to use machines correctly or use software correctly and not have to train them.”

Braren, a junior, pitched the idea of an assistive design club to Daniel Hannon, Professor of the Practice in Human Factors in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and shortly thereafter started working with fellow juniors Shinn, Allison Kuperman, Meg France, Nikki Dahan and Nick Hill to develop the club.

According to Kuperman, the group strives to be all-encompassing, so that its projects can benefit from the talents of both liberal arts and engineering students.

“We want different perspectives,” Kuperman said. “The whole point is that it’s interdisciplinary.”

While Shinn and France are engineers, Braren and Kuperman are liberal arts students studying engineering psychology, more commonly known as human factors.

“There are a lot of groups on campus that are for building things,” Kuperman said. “But I feel like it’s kind of difficult for a lot of people, especially liberal arts [students], to feel like, ‘I could join that group and participate effectively,’ and we don’t want people to feel like that. We want everybody.”

Braren said he hopes the club can help fuse skills from both the liberal arts and engineering schools, and said that human factors is one of the few majors that works to incorporate both schools at Tufts.

“You can take [human factors through] either [school], so we are kind of like a bridge major at a bridge school,” Braren said.

Since its founding, Tufts MAKE has created an Oreo “de-creamer” – a fun project that removes the cream from Oreos – and created a projector from basic materials. Now they are developing Tufts Dash, an app similar to iJumbo.

While the founders discussed how the Oreo de-creamer was a less serious project, for them it was more about the important creative process that is used in the professional world.

“I applied for my first internship last summer at athenahealth and we had to present a portfolio during the interview, and I talked about the design process we went through to make the Oreo de-creamer,” Kuperman said.

She showed the team pictures of the different iterations and the cardboard prototype she had made to inform the final design of the Oreo de-creamer.

“During the interview they said that the design process that I described was exactly the design process that they use, and I’m sure that helped me get the job,” Kuperman said. “Knowing the design process is important and does set you apart from other applicants.”

Shinn explained how being prepared to enter the job market and having the right skills to do so were motivating factors in the creation of the club.

“A lot of employers find that the kind of thing that students are lacking, particularly in human factors, is that they come out of college with a lot of theoretical knowledge of design … But not actually much practical knowledge,” Shinn said. 

This semester, Tufts MAKE is continuing to develop their app, Tufts Dash, and is hosting workshops for students focusing on the development of a variety of skills, such as creating one’s own website on a WordPress platform.  

“We got a lot of feedback last semester that people also enjoy just one-time things,” Braren said. “If it takes two to three hours on a Saturday to learn how to build their own entire portfolio site … People want to do that.”

Tufts MAKE is also looking to return to its original roots with its focus on assistive technology. This semester, they hope to start an assistive technology project to help individuals at the Outside the Lines Studio, a local art studio for people with disabilities.

The club’s main focus, however, is on software projects and workshops, according to Shinn.

“We [had] been doing a lot of digital projects last semester, because we weren’t officially recognized,” Shinn said. “We [started] the application process last semester, and so we get no funding through the university and no space, and so that limited our possibilities quite a bit.”

While Tufts MAKE is relatively new, with 80 members on the email list and an optimistic attitude, the group appears to be here to stay. Its founders said they look forward to the future of the club, but are also happy with how far it has come since its conception.

“We wanted to make something, and Tufts MAKE was the first thing we ever made,” Braren said.


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