As many of you have likely seen, the Mechanical Engineering department has a new makerspace/machine shop “TechSpark” which has brought some conversations and scrutiny on existing student shops. There has been a letter circulating which includes some very frightening language claiming that they aim to shut down and remove all student equipment, stifling innovation, and potentially killing the sport as we know it. Until recently, this is all the information we’ve had to go on as CMU hasn’t put out a statement on the topic. To that end, I would like to take some time to talk about what is going on, what we know currently, and where this is headed. I had a chance to talk with Kaycee, who, on top of being the sweepstakes adviser, also helps run the student shop registration process which has been in affect for the past 3-4 years.
*Disclaimer, this is not an official statement by CMU, this is purely my take-aways from my conversation, which I would love to discuss in more depth with those that are interested.
*EDIT- I was informed of some misunderstandings and have made corrections below.
What is going on?
The new director of Tech Spark was During initial discussions, some new staff were shocked to learn that students have their own machines that they maintain separately from any staff-run shops in their own spaces. This is a fairly unique situation compared to other institutions. While CMU has not yet had an issue with this, other institutions have unfortunately seen students get injured using poorly maintained equipment. This combined with the now-open new space may be leading some of the higher admin people to question the need and the safety of all the student equipment.
During the initial conversations, many students were (rightly) worried about losing their equipment and be forced to share shop space in this new shop (which they were originally excluded from). This space was described as one that would run during regular daylight hours with professional tools and staff to maintain it. This of course would be a huge issue given the limited timeframe available, not to mention the priority that will be given to class and research projects over student organization needs.
Separately from this, a student shop safety program has already been in place for the last 3-4 years which has been slowly growing in use and effectiveness without removing any tools. Student Life (SLICE) has great documentation now on tools that students use on a regular basis, as well as student shop managers and assistants who maintain training materials for their tools. This has allowed EHS to provide student groups with a lot of free safety equipment – Ear plugs, safety glasses, respirator cartridges, aprons, ect.
What we know now –
NOTHING IS SET IN STONE AND THERE HAVE BEEN NO OFFICIAL PLANS MADE. Through conversations with Kaycee, the issue came from a lack of education of the current practices in place. The new TechSpark director
was unfamiliar with is ramping up quickly to understand the full breadth and depth of needs from all of the student groups and since that initial conversation, it is clear those initial plans will not be put forward. Further, there are continuing conversations between staff, students, and administration to understand what is needed by students, how they are managing things currently, and how there can be better communication between each of those groups.
Where this is going –
CMU ultimately would like some additional oversight on heavy machine equipment that organizations use. What form this comes in is yet undefined and likely will be for several months, if not a year or more. It will likely include some level of walk-throughs of current student spaces with recommendations on safety precautions that are not already in place, as well as regular communication with organizations as their machines need service and repairs.
TechSpark is already planning to hire more staff to handle longer hours and is making a schedule to block out times for all groups that may desire to use the space. Additional equipment has been discussed to allow for the “pausing” of CNC jobs that would otherwise run too long. Current discussions also are claiming that one machine will always be left open during classes and training sessions for use by other groups.
What can I do?
Because we are so early in the process, we have the opportunity to help shape this new ecosystem as new spaces are built and offered which were previously exclusive. Along those lines, I ask that we follow this development closely and stay aware of what is going on with the mindset that the staff (especially those that have been around more) have the student’s best interest in mind. That said, we should absolutely critique any plans that come out should they not follow that mindset.
Lastly, if you would like to share your story and your experiences using your student shop, and how it affected your post-graduation life, I would be more than happy to share those stories alongside my own in future conversations with staff and administration. Please use this form if you would like your voice heard.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below so we can approach this as a united community of students and alumni. Thanks!