The Foundry fine-tunes functionality for upcoming year

Jessica Shu

It’s been just over a year since The Foundry, a makerspace in the Fine Arts Library, opened. The Foundry aims to give students from all disciplines the chance to learn hands-on technological skills. 

Amber Welch, head of technology-enhanced learning at UT Libraries, said she is proud of The Foundry’s growth over the past year and is eager to see it continue. 

“Last year we were really focused on developing workflows for the space and making sure that we were in compliance with University safety regulations,” Welch said. The operation, which now includes a Canvas course and a team of student staff, is constantly evolving to incorporate new equipment, such as for virtual reality, in user-friendly ways. 

Now that The Foundry has a full year under its belt, the Foundry team has shifted its focus to increasing campus-wide engagement by improving the student experience.  

“The important thing to remember about The Foundry is that it is managed by the University of Texas Libraries,” Welch said. “Libraries pride themselves on providing students with unfettered access to information, technology, people and spaces that will help them succeed. Rather than just providing a service to the community, we want to help build community.” 

This is the rationale behind the space’s open floor plan and varied learning opportunities. This, in addition to the curated workshops led by visiting artists, are intended to make The Foundry more inviting, according to Travis Willmann, communications officer for UT Libraries.

“Most technological development is accompanied by a period in which people have to develop a confidence for using it,” Willmann said, “But once people learn the machines, they tend to be surprised at the ease of use.”

The Foundry does its best to maximize student interactions with technology, Welch said.

“Some schools provide 3-D printing services that allow a patron to submit a file and then come pick up the 3-D printed object later that day,” Welch said. “(That) model eliminates a lot of the most valuable aspects of engaging with a makerspace.”

The Foundry, on the other hand, wants students to be intimately involved with every step of the making process, she added.

The Fine Arts Library, located on East 23rd and Trinity, is filled with 3-D printers, which according to Welch, are among The Foundry’s most-used pieces. Beside each station is a scannable QR code leading to general instructions and The Foundry’s Canvas course. 

“I’m surprised at how easy it is to get started,” engineering freshman Eva Patel said. “It’s not at all intimidating. I want to get certified with the laser cutter.”

The Foundry certifies about 50 people each month during the long semesters, according to Welch, who hopes this number will rise. 

“The Foundry wants to empower students to acquire new skills, and then share that knowledge with their peers and society at large,” she added. 

Accessible weekly tours and certification classes, as well as classroom integration, are key to reducing barriers to makerspace expertise, Welch said. It’s often difficult for students to find time to come to The Foundry, so the next step is to further dissolve the boundary between library resources and classroom learning, she added.

“The real driver for student use of The Foundry is creative inspiration,” Willmann added.