Making community in the Libraries Makerspace

Abdul-khaliq Abdul-matin at work in the Hill Library’s Makerspace.

Abdul-khaliq Abdul-matin at work in the Hill Library’s Makerspace.

For many students like Abdul-khaliq Abdul-matin, the Hill Library’s Makerspace is about much more than 3D printing.

When the Hill Library’s Makerspace first opened more than seven years ago, the goal, according to Learning Innovation Librarian Adam Rogers, was to “broaden access to making—the tools and materials, but more importantly, the literacies of making.” For Abdul-khaliq Abdul-matin, a recent graduate of NC State’s Microbiology program, the Makerspace—with its 3D printers, 3D scanners, electronics prototyping kits, sewing machines, laser cutter, and many other maker tools—was more than enough to re-engage his creative side. 

“I’ve always been kind of creative,” Abdul-matin says. “I like art, and I like to draw, and my parents influenced me and encouraged me in that. But that somehow got lost through the years. When I came to the Makerspace and looked across the room and saw people working in here, I wanted to be a part of that.”

A nontraditional student who transferred to NC State from Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in Charlotte, Abdul arrived as a junior and got busy with course work, so his connection to the Makerspace didn’t happen right away. But when he heard that a couple of his professors were getting into 3D printing to create different models and tactile teaching tools to help students understand various biological concepts, he jumped at the chance to get involved.

“The Makerspace is a good place for transfer students, because we are a community-driven space,” notes University Library Specialist Justin Haynes. “For transfer students, that's something they miss by not being here that first year. They don't have a traditional cohort. So having a place where they can talk and discuss and open up to each other allows them to make those friendships. We're really trying to reach out to and support those nontraditional students who don't have that same first year experience as more traditional students.”

Working on a grant-funded project with one of his professors, Abdul learned CAD software and spent the whole next summer modeling a neuroreceptor. “It was a steep learning curve, but I was trying to run up that steep hill. I wanted to master these skills, because, thanks to people who did the hard work to develop the software and all the algorithms, I’m able to use my hands to create anything I want. I’m only limited by my imagination.”

“Abdul was one of the patrons who pushed the Makerspace staff to answer intriguing questions and pushed our machines to figure out new ways of creating things.” Haynes adds. “Whether he was talking about one of the many interesting projects that he was working on at the time or asking others about their work, he did so in such a manner that lightened the room. Realizing this, I reached out to Abdul about working for the Libraries and getting paid for all that time he was coming to the Makerspace and helping others.”

“When I heard that the Libraries were paying students to work in the Makerspace, I came running. I mean, if you’re going to pay me to do what I want to do in the first place…” Abdul trails off with a wry smile.

“I was here in the Makerspace pretty much all the time anyway, because I just feel like it’s a necessity, like I need to be in this space and be around other creators. There’s a pureness, a childlike state. Through the Makerspace, people create meaningful relationships, because you start off at a point of doing something we all enjoy. My childlike state connects with your childlike state, and we grow and develop together and work in teams. I just love that. There’s a sense of play, a sense of community, and collaborations tend to spring up organically.”

Traditionally, technology-rich spaces like the Makerspace haven’t been the most inclusive spaces. For students from marginalized communities or first-generation college students, these spaces can often be intimidating. Knowing this, the Libraries intentionally developed the Making Space event series as one way to foster a welcoming environment. 

Malaka Friedman, a Ph.D. candidate in the Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media program and Student Advisor in the Makerspace, points out that “Making Space provides a unique opportunity for the NC State community to engage with both speakers and different kinds of making that they may not otherwise encounter.”

“Through bringing in individuals from underrepresented groups,” she explains, “Making Space promotes conversations and engagement with topics ranging from cultural representation in mending practices to considering how 3D printing can assist with making adaptive tools for accessibility needs.”

Early this fall, the Libraries welcomed Jackie Morin, founder of Wonderpuff LLC, who discussed her positionality and how she founded a small, local business. Morin led a Self-Love Hour workshop in which attendees made cotton candy and Self-Love Jars and engaged in meditation. Later in the fall, designer, artist, and researcher Lucas LaRochelle visited the Libraries to discuss Queering The Map, their community-generated, counter-mapping project for digitally archiving LGBTQ2IA+ experience in relation to physical space.

“I feel like this place is a family, and I definitely call this place home,” Abdul continues. “It feels good to be in this space and grow with my peers. While I definitely wasn't looking for this, I will say that I kind of expected myself to do something like this. I just enjoy creating and the people that I create for. I’m just so grateful that NC State has a space like this!”

While the Libraries absolutely wants to provide safe, inclusive, creative spaces where students can earn money while on campus, these experiential learning opportunities are ultimately designed to enable their success long after they’ve left campus. Abdul, when thinking about graduation, was definitely looking for jobs that incorporated 3D printing. He applied to the National Institutes of Health, for example, because they have a makerspace and print a variety of molecules, proteins, and other biological models.

“It definitely set me apart,” he admitted. “My professors and peers all came to me like, ‘Abdul, I need something 3D printed’ or ‘How do I do this, or go about this process?’”

Immediately following graduation, Abdul landed a job as a microbiologist with Proctor & Gamble in Greensboro. He credits the DIY thinking and the confidence in independent skill-building he gained in the Hill Library’s Makerspace for helping him hit the ground running, as he immediately started exploring possible uses his team might have for a variety of maker tools and techniques.

But his experience in the Makerspace also found its way into his personal life. Abdul continued to create community as a volunteer with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, where he and his eleven-year-old brother Mekhi 3D printed dinosaurs—a shared experience they both enjoyed and bonded over.

Currently, Abdul works at both a nursery/gardening center and at CPCC in his hometown of Charlotte. Here, his early career has come full circle, and he continues to nurture his creativity and his community in their makerspace, making 3D prints to share with friends and family.