Students pack Design Studio as end of semester approaches

Christina Senia (ME'16) uses the Design Studio to work on her project for a mechatronics demonstration event. (Heidi Hall/Vanderbilt University)

It’s the night before a mechatronics class demonstration day in April, and the Design Studio is even more packed than usual. There’s a constant whir from two 3D printers going full speed as mechanical engineering students crowd nearly every work station to put the finishing touches on their projects. Other majors squeeze in between them to grab resistors, capacitors and Arduinos for their own projects.

The end of a semester always brings an exceptional burst of activity to the Design Studio, located in Featheringill Hall at the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering, but it has been popular with students since its fall 2013 opening.

“We need more space, honestly,” said Jack Hayes, a third-year mechanical engineering major soldering wires together. “When you get this many people in here, it’s pretty crowded.”

Tom Withrow, assistant professor of the practice of mechanical engineering, said he and department colleague Ken Frampton, associate professor of the practice, proposed funding the studio and guided it to opening. They wanted students to have space and supplies to complete real-world engineering projects.

Withrow easily names items on a long list of projects that can be done in the studio.

“Students can find all kinds of sensors, microcontrollers and actuators in the studio,” he said. “They can solder, 3D print and laser cut. A faculty member even used it to make a model of a protein motor. It was scaled up dramatically so he could show the protein folding to his students.”

Jack Hayes (ME'16) works on his mechatronics project (Heidi Hall/Vanderbilt University)

A special feature of the Design Studio is its all-student staff of volunteer mentors, who guide their classmates over project hurdles and make sure it’s stocked and running smoothly. They fill shifts to keep the studio open from 1-11 p.m. daily during the school year.

This semester will end with 50 student mentors, including the president of the Design Studio’s executive board, Nick Blair, a third-year student in computer engineering.

Blair said he’s hoping for some new gear and expanded capabilities in the Design Studio for his senior year. The 3D printers get so much use, students print replacement parts on them to keep them running.

He’s also aware of the space constraints in Room 131A.

“We can’t expand anymore there,” Blair said. “We’re trying to find ways to get students greater access to equipment located in other labs by making sure a trained person is available to oversee the use. For that, we need more mentors.

“We don’t want to just be a print shop, where you throw in a USB and leave and come back a couple of days later for your stuff. We want to make it an interactive experience.”


Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
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