Who are those "makers," anyway? Watch this video documentary produced by the AT&T Learning Studio at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, to learn more about the philosophy behind the movement.
When President Barack Obama vowed earlier this year to focus on expanding opportunity through manufacturing, innovation and entrepreneurship, the UA and more than 150 other higher education institutions responded with a letter pledging to take steps to promote the "Movement of Making."
That effort and many others across the country were recognized Wednesday when Obama held the first-ever White House Maker Faire, during which he met with students, entrepreneurs and citizens who are leading a "grassroots renaissance in American manufacturing" by launching businesses and learning vital skills in science, technology, engineering, and math – known as STEM.
Maker fairs bring together inventors, artists, tinkerers, programmers and creative minds from many other areas in a casual and enthusiastic atmosphere to present their work, exchange experiences and learn from each other. In recent years, technologies such as 3-D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software and desktop machine tools have become accessible to the general population, enabling a growing number of people to design and build almost anything.
The original Maker Faire was held in San Mateo, California, in 2006 by Make Magazine to "celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the do-it-yourself mindset." Since then, maker fairs have exploded in number in the United States and become a phenomenon internationally, with fairs springing up around the globe.
In the letter presented to the president, the UA and the other signing institutions committed to take concrete steps to empower students to learn through making, expand access to maker spaces, incorporate making into senior design projects and admissions portfolios, and support student entrepreneurship.
Dale Dougherty, CEO of Maker Media, which produces Make Magazine and Maker Faire, defines "making" as creating, producing, crafting, shaping, tinkering, composing and building. It covers many areas of interest and many skills, and projects often combine several of each. Making sits at the intersection of art and science, and at the crossroads of technology and design, according to Dougherty.
"Today, making is where hardware and software are reconnecting with each other, increasing our ability to sense the physical world and initiate actions that interact with us. This is what a robot does – or an autonomous vehicle or a solar-powered toy that comes alive by day," Dougherty said.
"Engineering is not a spectator sport and you have to get experiences at 'doing engineering' to get expertise," said Jeffrey Goldberg, dean of the UA College of Engineering. "The maker movement and the White House Maker Faire bring this notion to the national forefront. If the U.S. is to remain a leading economic engine and maintain a high standard of living, then we are going to need people that can ideate, design and construct great products that are low cost, high reliability, easy to use and meet needs."
Earlier this year, students from the UA College of Engineering participated in Tucson's inaugural maker fair, "Maketopolis." Maketopolis brought together nearly 50 exhibits with more than 100 exhibitors, including do-it-yourselfers, roboticists, inventors, hobbyists, artists, bike modders, metalworkers, potters, hackers, steampunks, builders, woodcrafters, sculptors, tinkerers, programmers and others.
"Tucson has a surprisingly robust hobbyist community filled with innovators, builders and creative," said Patrick Marcus, a UA alum and president of Marcus Engineering, one of the event's sponsors. "Maketopolis rivaled events held in much larger cities and we should be very proud that Tucson has been filled with vibrant makers for a long time."
Beyond the fun and games, Maketopolis, which is slated to take place annually, addresses issues that are critical to Arizona's future, such as STEM education and workforce development and retention.
"Although high schools and universities provide a foundation for STEM knowledge, true passion for building and creating new technologies – not to mention the hands-on and trade skills necessary for realizing many of these technologies – are often derived during the play and exploration in hobby and self-taught settings," Marcus said. "It's very exciting to see more children becoming exposed to the opportunity to truly love and experience STEM to the point of sitting in class each day yearning to get home so they can build, program and play with technology."
A fourth-generation Tucson native, Marcus is an adjunct professor in the College of Engineering, where he teaches and lectures on innovation, marketing for engineers and startups for engineers.
For export-driven success, it's important that communities create an innovation pipeline from student to entrepreneur to technology expertise, he said.
"Maker fairs play a key role in that."