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‘Makers and not-yet-makers’

Makerspace fostering innovation, design and creativity in Western N.L.

special feature: Meet Memorial

A summer spotlight on some of the wide-ranging and important roles at Memorial and the faculty, students and staff who fill them.

By Melanie Callahan

Meet Maria Kilfoil.

Dr. Kilfoil recently joined Grenfell Campus as the manager of the makerspace in the Navigate Centre.

The new makerspace stimulates innovation by providing anyone and everyone access to a machine shop. It’s a workshop that features everything you need to make a prototype of a product.

The space will be open to kids, adults and entrepreneurs and have a variety of maker equipment, including 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC (computer numerical control) machines, microprocessors and sensors, soldering irons and even sewing machines for working with wood, metal, electronics, textiles and almost any other material you can imagine.

The makerspace is a part of an investment of almost $1.5 million over two years from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the provincial departments of Tourism Culture, Industry and Innovation and Advanced Education, Skills and Labour.

DIY inclined

Ms. Kilfoil is new to Memorial, coming to Grenfell from the University of Massachusetts where she was a physics professor.

While the shift from physics to prototype development might seem like an unusual career leap, Dr. Kilfoil says it’s a natural one.

“I’ve been a big DIY person ever since I was a child. I’d create mechanized improvements on the farm where I grew up or build my own furniture or whimsical objects. Physics was just an extension of my creative ability.”

Maria Kilfoil and one of the 3D-printed objects from the Navigate Centre’s makerspace.
Photo: Lori Lee Pike

Now Dr. Kilfoil is tasked with creating and fostering an environment of design and innovation.

She and all the members of the Navigate team – along with a number of faculty at Grenfell who kickstarted and cultivated the investment – are working to answer some big questions, such as: How can you create an environment that stimulates development of innovation? What are the required building blocks of such an ecosystem?

Accessible design

Dr. Kilfoil suggests that there is a major shift happening in industrial design.

With new technologies, design is accessible to individuals and small operations and is no longer limited to large factories and companies.

“People can go right into creating an enterprise or product, by themselves,” she said.

“The hardware has gotten cheaper and easier to use. Once you figure out how to make a digital file that embodies your design, you can use the same template for all these different fabrication tools. My role as manager of the makerspace, along with Billy Newell and Sean St. George and the rest of the Navigate team, is to provide resources and mentoring for people on all the different aspects of this journey.”

“The most fundamental thing is, of course, to create the space.” — Dr. Maria Kilfoil

The makerspace will bring together people who collectively can achieve much more than individuals can by creating opportunities for “collisions between makers and not-yet makers” in the Corner Brook community, says Dr. Kilfoil, as well as students from all of Grenfell’s programs, the DIY society and the public, Grenfell libraries, experts from industries key to Western Newfoundland and people from funding agencies.

Dr. Kilfoil says she is also motivated to create a network of potential users of the makerspace, develop programming and figure out ways to get into classrooms to encourage core skills and the use of fabrication tools, as well as the journey of entrepreneurship.

A space to create

Already, Dr. Kilfoil has travelled to rural communities in Western Newfoundland to offer robotics workshops and to help organize events to encourage entrepreneurship in the region, such as a recent forestry-themed startup weekend.

“The most fundamental thing, of course, is to create the space, and my primary occupation — and obsession — currently is building out of the makerspace – sourcing the digital and traditional fabrication equipment,” she said.

“The kids I’ve met in Western Newfoundland get it. You can’t go around to all the places from St. Anthony to Port aux Basques that I do and not get very inspired. I couldn’t be more excited to be engaging with makers, aspiring makers and designers in the area.”

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