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Spark Lab offers space, tools for students to be creative

| Friday, September 15, 2023

In May, the Spark Lab at Saint Mary’s opened its doors on the first floor of the Haggar College Center for tri-campus students.

The Spark Lab is a space for students to be creative in an academic or personal pursuit. It was framed after Notre Dame’s Innovation Lab that Saint Mary’s students were able to use.

“A lot of people were going to Notre Dame and spending a lot of time there, and it was not safe for them to come back on campus late at night. So they wanted to create a similar space here on campus,” Spark Lab leader Shreejan Shrestha said. “It’s more focused towards women-led projects and women-led businesses, but it’s open for all of the public.”

Natalie Smith
The Spark Lab, on the first floor of the Haggar College Center at Saint Mary’s, opened its doors in May. The lab offers a space for students to be creative in a personal or academic pursuit.

There are different machines that everyone has access to at the lab.

“We have a lot of resources available here like 3D printers, laser cutters. We’re also in the process of adding more. We just added another resin 3D picture a week ago, and I’m also adding another FDM printer,” Shrestha said.

The lab also has a Cricut for making t-shirts, stickers or tote bags, a vinyl cutter for making signs and a button maker.

The Spark Lab, while being a place where students can go and work on different projects for fun, is intended more for fostering innovation. Leaders of the lab want students to focus on educational projects for their classes or come to the lab with ideas for a possible business.

“If people are just coming here to have fun, that’s OK, but they are using a lot of resources and we are not sustainable like that,” Shrestha said. “So if someone has a solid or concrete business [idea] or ideas that have a direct or indirect impact on the society, that shows that we do something for the community that will help us get more grants and be more sustainable.” 

The lab is open to anyone from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, but some classes also offer opportunities to use the maker’s space for different projects. 

“There were a lot of individual professors who would be like, ‘Oh I’ve got an idea, can I bring in my class to do a tour?’” faculty co-lead Jeff Greiner said. “All of the first-year SPLL (Sophia Program in Lib Learning) classes have been coming in and doing tours and demos and learning how the space works. We are continuing to do all those individualized things as people ask for it.”

The lab faculty hopes to offer certifications that students can earn by taking classes in the Spark Lab. Possible programs include credentials in Business 101, Entrepreneurship 101 or the Adobe Suite.

“One of the goals is actually having our students and people from the community get these industry-facing credentials so that they can build off their CV and get better jobs … But all of those [credential programs] are in the works,” Shrestha said. 

Spaces like the Spark Lab allow students to gain the ability to learn how to use the machinery provided and be able to create something on their own, Greiner said.

“I think these spaces are important because it’s teaching people, especially given the abilities of modern technology, just how much they’re capable of doing on their own. We have gotten very used to as a society, hiring people to do things, and there’s some value in that, but there are a lot of things that aren’t horribly complicated that don’t require high levels of expertise,” he said. “There’s a lot of empowerment that can happen in a space like this where if you’ve got an idea, all you need is the training to see that idea come to fruition.”

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