Making to Micro-Manufacturing

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Making in the Colonias - Motivating STEM Participation through a Making as Micro-Manufacturing Model

Project Participants

Faculty PIs

  • Dr. Francis Quek: PI. TEILab Director, Professor of Visualization, By Courtesy: Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, Professor of Psychology
  • Dr. Sharon Lynn Chu: Co-PI. Asst. Professor of Visualization
  • Dr. Malini Natarajarathinam: Co-PI. Assoc. Professor Engineering Technology and Industry Distribution
  • Dr. Mathew Kuttolamadom: Co-PI. Asst. Professor Engineering Technology and Industry Distribution

Student Participants

  • Alex Berman Ph.D. Student, CSE
  • Paloma Rodriguez MS Student Researcher, Visualization
  • Stephen Martinez Undergraduate Student Researcher, ETID
  • Estefany Hernandez Undergraduate Student Researcher, ETID

Project Overview

Concept Diagram of the Making in the Colonias project

This project engages a team of 6 high school students from a rural Colonias community over period of two years in Making as Practice within a realistic work scenario. The goals of the project are threefold:

  • To investigate a model of Making as Micro-manufacture as a means for supporting STEM (specifically Engineering) learning and identity formation in high school students
  • To investigate a model for sustainable development of Making kits for to support STEM learning in a local elementary school (see our Making the Maker project) by engaging teams of high school students for the production while also supporting STEM learning in the high school students in the process.
  • To investigate a distance apprenticeship approach through which high school students may be introduced to a engineering practice

A Colonia is defined by the State of Texas as a predominant Latino community border community that is characterized by poverty and substandard housing that lacks physical infrastructure, potable water, sanitary sewage, and adequate roads. Our partners in the Webb Consolidated School District at the Texas-Mexican border region serves students from Colonias in the vicinity of Bruni and Oilton. Six students from the Bruni High School are recruited to a Manufacturing-Production Team (MPT) to learn Making technologies and processes to produce custom Making kits for a class in the Oilton Elementary School. These kits that support classroom Making activity that is aligned with State-mandated learning goals have been designed along with lesson plans in our Making the Maker project. We leverage our experience working with undergraduate students from the Texas A&M Electronics Technology and Industrial Distribution program to formulate a curriculum for the high school MPT. The MPT will receive training at the Texas A&M campus over two week-long sessions. The MPT will then engage in Making practice in Bruni with support from Texas A&M students and graduate students via video teleconference. The MPT will engage in:

  • Meet with the Oilton Elementary School teacher to customize designs for the school district's teaching goals
  • Design adaptation of the custom Making kits for local deployment in Oilton Elementary School
  • Materials purchasing (part of Industrial Distribution or Supply Chain management)
  • Prototype development and testing with the materials
  • Purchasing and production scheduling to meet the needs of the elementary school
  • Manufacture the kits in quantity (typically around 10 kits per run)

NSF Abstract

As part of an overall strategy to enhance learning within maker contexts in formal and informal environments, the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) and Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) programs partnered to support innovative models in making poised to catalyze new approaches in STEM learning and innovation. Employing a novel design and development approach, this Early Concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER) will test the feasibility of integrating making concepts with real world micro- manufacturing engineering principles within the context of intense, multi-year apprenticeship inspired experiences for high school students. The apprenticeship model is particularly novel, as current making research and experiences predominately take place in afterschool and summer programs for up to 25 youth. This model, however, will engage a small cohort of high school students in collaborative apprenticeship inspired experiences. Over a two year span, the students will learn to think critically, solve problems, and work together as a making production team (MPT) in customized makerspaces, constructing engineering-based science kits for implementation in a local elementary school. Not only will the students enhance their content knowledge while developing new skills but the project will also address a very practical need for the targeted high need population – employment. The two year apprenticeship experiences will be paid opportunities, which should help to minimize the access barrier for the underserved, high need students interested in making but, also need to contribute to their families’ economic welfare. Few, if any, efforts currently serve the targeted population by contextualizing making within a supply chain management and micro-manufacturing framework and extending the making experience by integrating the student designed products into elementary classrooms. Therefore, this project will contribute to virtually unexplored areas of making research and development.

A cohort of 6 high school students (MPT) will be selected to participate in the feasibility study. The students will be recruited from colonias along the Texas-Mexico border comprised primarily of migrant and underserved communities. In Year 1, the students will spend one month at Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University (TAMU) with Texas A & M University undergraduate, graduate students, and the project team learning key aspects of making and manufacturing (i.e., ideation, prototyping, design, acquisition, personnel, and production) through hands-on activities, studio sessions, and direct instruction. During the academic year, the MPT will meet with the project team two days per week for two hours and one day per week for one hour in a customized makerspace in their high school to discuss and construct engineering-based kits designed to align with the local elementary school science curriculum. In the summer, five elementary teachers will participate in a customized summer making workshop to prepare for the fall kit production implementation in their classrooms. In Year 2, in consultation with the elementary school teachers and their school curriculum, the high school students will construct a different set of kits which will be implemented into the local elementary school by the project team and teachers. Using a mixed-methods approach, the research questions will explore: (a) the actualization of the model in an underserved community, (b) the effectiveness of problem-based learning to train students in the model, and (c) STEM knowledge and self-concept.


This project is partially supported by NSF grant Making in the Colonias - Motivating STEM Participation through a Making as Micro-Manufacturing Model, DRL 1623543'.