Gustavo Correa, fourth-year electrical engineering major at UCR, during his summer internship at MIT
August 31, 2018

When Gustavo Correa’s Honors Principles of Civic Engagement assignment in fall quarter 2016 was to “find a way to be civically engaged,” that task could have unfolded very differently in the hands of another student.

As it happened, the Creat’R Lab owes a part of its inception to Correa, a fourth year electrical engineering major and project manager for the UCR chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), who saw the need for a campus-wide makerspace.

“I was at a coffee shop in downtown Riverside and thought, ‘What if I create this space?’” Correa explained. “We had a space for electrical engineering students, but when it came to having a space for everyone to create, we didn’t have that at all. It helps us to apply the concepts we learn, so why not give this opportunity to everybody else, too?”

As the saying goes, great minds think alike. In a stroke of serendipity, in fall quarter 2016 the UCR Library had formed a committee comprised of representatives from the Library, Research and Economic Development (RED), and other campus stakeholders whose intent was to explore building a makerspace on the UCR campus. When committee member and UCR lecturer Jeff McDaniel heard that Correa was also considering that idea, he invited Correa to help shape the vision and identify the initial equipment needed.

After the Creat’R Lab launch, Correa’s workshops in the Lab were some of the most highly-attended. More than 60 students attended his first Arduino workshop, 80% of whom had never before worked with the tool (an open-source electronic prototyping platform that enables users to create interactive electronic objects).

“It was my first time teaching workshops and being a leader in an organization. It was a really cool experience, giving back to the community, to have a big impact on a lot of people at one time,” Correa reflected. “We had everyone from first years to graduate students from all majors, and the majority of them had no experience whatsoever with anything that I was showing them.”

With such a strong start, it’s no surprise to learn that Correa has even bigger hopes for what the Creat’R Lab could become, with additional community involvement and development funding.

“The school has recognized that we have a need. They made the space, they made it happen,” he said. “If nobody would have used it, then we wouldn’t need it – but we have demonstrated that there obviously is a need for this space. If we scale it up, it will be used more and more for many other things.”

Correa would like to see more of UCR’s student organizations get involved with Creat’R Lab, more collaborations with the individual colleges, more professional workshops, industry speakers, and of course more space and tools to accommodate the increased demand on resources.

“A lot of other schools have a whole building dedicated to this. What if we had a whole building?” Correa mused. “If we could take over that whole wing on the first floor of Orbach Library, with big glass windows and lots of lighting, a lot of huge tables, all the machining tools, things to build at any scale, huge animatronic sculptures, and then we could be as loud as we want in there.”

Beyond building, Correa would also like to see professional development workshops offered, including “soft” skills workshops such as how technical majors can better express themselves in writing or speech. “Let’s say we had a professional teaching advanced techniques on how to use a laser printer, or Garner Holt teaching us how to build animatronics, or someone from NASA!” Correa added. “A lot of them come from humble and diverse backgrounds so we’re able to relate to them.”

Before the Creat’R Lab can expand, however, Correa recognizes that there needs to be more direct involvement from the colleges. “When it’s one student trying to do it, it’s harder. If the school is trying to push it, it’s easier. We need to see emails from the faculty saying, ‘We want all you guys to work together to do these things – in the Creat’R Lab.’”