From Mountain Xpress: 2017 Asheville Innovators — Sara Sanders and Brent Skidmore

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Sara Sanders

From Mountain Xpress, story by Dan Hesse

UNC Asheville’s STEAM Studio


Brent Skidmore, Sara Sanders, Susan Rieser, Rebecca Bruce, Jackson Martin and Matt West, collaborative co-founders

Describe your organization/project.
Founded by an interdisciplinary team of engineering and sculpture faculty and staff, UNC Asheville STEAM Studio @ the RAMP is a state-of-the-art fabrication/making space combining the curricular forces of engineering and art. STEAM Studio is an 11,647-square-foot space that acts as a hands-on classroom, fabrication facility and incubator for these collaborative partners and ideas. The facility is specifically designed to nurture and promote collaborations across multiple disciplines. Students work side-by-side utilizing woodworking technologies, metal fabrication and computer-aided design. STEAM Studio provides an environment where students develop and prototype viable products, engage in creative exploration and design thinking approaches, while also implementing class projects, including the mechatronics senior design projects and senior exhibitions in art and all levels of sculpture.

Why is this needed in the Asheville area, and how does it make a difference?
When people come together from disparate fields and perspectives, we have the opportunity to learn and grow in ways we simply can’t on our own. We can achieve far greater goals whenBrent Skidmore with students in the STEAM Studio. we utilize the diverse strengths and skill sets of individuals working in a team than we can when we are contained and confined in our disciplinary silos. When each individual is able to contribute in a meaningful way to the greater good of a project, everyone wins. It builds community and solves problems in a very user-centered way. When we collaborate effectively, we are forced to examine our own egos and intentions, our strengths and our weaknesses. We learn to ask for help and we learn when to offer support. When we can do these things in the context of design and making, we can enhance and optimize the user experience in the tangible and digital worlds while creating community and a sense of belonging. This is needed in Asheville, and it’s needed all over the world. We believe that public liberal arts institutions everywhere should be looking for ways to use design, making and collaboration to help us face all challenges.

What was your epiphany/eureka moment for this organization/project?
Realizing that the team, even though we come from different disciplines, all believe in teaching and learning by doing and making together. Learning how a laser cutter works is very different from using a laser cutter. While learning the standard operating procedures and safety guidelines are critical to understanding the laser cutter, without actual practice on the equipment, they provide an incomplete lesson. Designing a chair and actually physically building a chair are two very different experiences. To understand both the virtual and real space of craft and making is central to our desired experiences at STEAM. Learning by making is not a new approach: It’s a cornerstone of art, engineering and new media and follows the exceptional model of Black Mountain College.

For the full story, visit the Mountain Xpress website