Gale Iles was set to use the Hatch It! Lab for her Courts class although a room full of sewing machines, 3D printers, laser cutters and other hands-on equipment might not seem like an obvious choice.
But in a twist on making students think outside the box, Iles, associate professor of criminal justice, had them create the box. A witness box.
“The idea that I settled on was to have them build a replica of a courtroom,” she said. “That replica will include miniature figurines that illustrate where the legal actors are located in the courtroom.”
Located in the Mapp Building at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the Hatch It! Lab opened in spring semester 2021 and, along with Iles’ class, has hosted classes in botany, communications and cybersecurity.
The lab—also known as a makerspace—is filled with a variety of equipment, including 3D printers, a laser cutter, a vinyl cutter, a combination sewing and embroidery machine, hand tools, a mini photo booth and supplies for all its machines. Not surprisingly, it’s capable of making all sorts of things.
In her Entrepreneurship: The Mindset and Skillset course, Libby Santin, director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and home to the Hatch It! Lab, gave her students the wide-open job of “Make Something.”
“It could be anything as long as it was meaningful to them and that it required them to learn how to use a new piece of equipment,” she said.
“I saw everything from a very large 3D-printed, yellow Buddha to a holder for model paints and paintbrushes, to a king chess piece created as a remembrance for an older brother who passed away.”
In spring semester, Angela Ballard, adjunct professor in the Department of Interior Architecture and Design, used the lab in two courses: Nurturing Nature: The Science of Gardening and Publication Design II.
In the Nature class, students had to make something that could be used to grow and nurture plants, Ballard said, while in Publication Design, they had to develop a prototype for a promotional product.
“I assigned an overall learning objective for both that was focused on creative problem-solving, and the students took it from there,” Ballard said.
“Creative problem-solving is a skill that’s useful for students of all majors, regardless of their academic and professional goals,” she said. “It’s one of the most valuable things you can bring to the table when you’re looking for a job, and it has tremendous personal value, too.”
While it may seem counter-productive, the lab’s hands-on equipment also gives students something they may not face on a regular basis—failure.
“They know how to get a ‘A,’ all that stuff,” Santin said, “but when they were in there, the machine wouldn’t print the material, or it wouldn’t come out like they thought it would, or they wouldn’t have managed their time well enough. So that concept of experiencing failure and then recovering from it is a really important lesson to have.”
For fall semester, five professors have scheduled time in the Hatch It! Lab. It’s a trial run, Santin said, so a larger number of slots may be available in the future.
“We don’t really know what our true capacity is because we’ve only had one semester of experience working in there. So don’t want to overload but, at the same time, I don’t want to under-leverage what we have,” Santin said.