Nolop FAST Facility opens on campus as makerspace

The Nolop Family FAST Facility is pictured here on November 27th, 2018. (Christine Lee / The Tufts Daily)

Disclaimer: Madison Reid is currently employed by the Nolop FAST Facility. Reid had no affiliation with the facility at the time of writing

Nestled behind Kindlevan Café in the Science and Engineering Complex (SEC) is the Nolop FAST Facility, a newly-opened makerspace on campus. The Nolop FAST Facility opened after Jan. 21 and is managed by part-time lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering Brandon Stafford.

Stafford said that the Nolop FAST Facility is a way to consolidate “maker” resources in a way that is accessible to all students. Tufts currently has several makerspaces around campus.

“Instead of being specific to any department, this is intro-level for everyone. [It’s for] anyone who wants to build something, whether you’re a scientist or you’re studying philosophy,” he said, “The real focus is building a culture where people feel comfortable exploring and building stuff with their peers.”

Dean of the School of Engineering Jianmin Qu has similar goals for the space. He said that the space will start with introductory workshops to encourage and educate those new to engineering fabrication and eventually host classes, activities and programs.

“For example, in the spring of 2019, students from the SMFA [School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts] will be taking advantage of a design and fabrication class, to help introduce them to studio art and engineering fabrication,” Qu told the Daily in an email. 

Qu’s hopes for the space expand beyond this semester.

“One long-term goal of the space is to help students reflect on what they do not know, identify that knowledge in others and learn to communicate and team up with those people with knowledge, so that the team has more knowledge than any individual student in solving a problem,” Qu said.

Stafford said facility will help supplement what students are learning in the classroom.

“We think that by helping people get some hands-on experience [with] building, it’ll add a practical side to the education we get here,” he said. “We’re really strong in teaching people the theoretical side of stuff and this helps balance that out to give people a broader education.”

Qu said that the Nolop FAST Facility was completely funded by donors, with the lead donation coming from the estate of former pharmaceutical executive Keith Nolop, who has familial connections to Tufts.

“Keith was passionate about hands-on learning, driving one’s own education, and helping young people learn,” Qu said. “The Nolop family thought this makerspace was the perfect way to honor his memory.”

Stafford explained that Robinson Hall was chosen as the home of the makerspace to attract both STEM and non-STEM students. He noted that its proximity to Kindlevan Café might draw in curious students passing by in the area.

However, the space is still being assembled. Stafford said that the makerspace will acquire tools according to student use and demand throughout the course of the spring semester.

“Right now we have a bunch of workbenches, but pretty soon we’ll have laser cutters, 3D printers, woodworking tools, metalworking tools, electronics and tools for making stuff out of fabric,” Stafford said.

A post dated Dec. 18, 2018, announced that the Nolop FAST Facility had chosen a laser cutter for the space.

Stafford added that students will be hired to run the space. Currently, 11 Tufts students run the space. 

Students like Abigail Klotz, a sophomore studying chemical engineering, are already using the space. Klotz used the makerspace for a project in her numerical methods class and was able to get help with ideating from Stafford as well as the physical materials that she needed for the project.

Klotz noted that creating a welcoming space can foster a culture of making at Tufts.

“Having a space that says, ‘hey, come try out all these things and make something,’ is a really good way to encourage hands-on behavior,” Klotz said.