Reflecting on a Month of Making: EiTM Lab’s Symposium Highlights and Takeaways

In February 2024, the EiTM Lab participated in various maker symposiums focused on equitable making and maker literacies. Dr. Melo joined these events virtually, while Graduate Research Assistants Luxin (Grace) Zhang and Rachel Rodney physically attended workshops in the Bay Area, California, and Arlington, Texas, respectively. Below, you can find the key insights gained from these events.

CRAFT Network for Researchers and Makers 

From February 9th to February 12th, Grace attended the 2024 CRAFT Network Meeting: Cultivating Reciprocal Partnerships with Communities, Researchers, and Makers Educators at the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco, California. 


Exhibit in Childrens Museum

Photo of Children’s Creativity Museum


Grace presented various EiTM Lab publications to a group of scholars and practitioners specializing in equity and interdisciplinary approaches in STEM education. These publications included the original virtual Makerspace, its redesigned version, and signage from the redesigned Makerspace. During the presentation, she discussed the connection between physical spaces, learning, and the sense of belonging. Grace affirmed what the research data revealed: the Virtual Makerspace can be a valuable tool for educators and researchers aiming to create community-centered learning experiences, drawing on direct feedback from users.

During the group discussion, Grace raised important questions regarding the systematic impact of research, emphasizing the importance of effective dissemination and communication for sustained research influence, particularly after funding ends.

At the CRAFT Network conference and during the tour of the Children’s Creativity Museum, the EiTM Lab showcased the significant cultural and creative contributions of local communities. They shared valuable resources with their partners and linked their work to the broader maker community outside their state, specifically highlighting Bay Area makerspaces and practices. This was aimed at laying the groundwork for future research-practice partnerships.


People sitting around tables at conference

Photo from CRAFT Meeting


Maker Immersion for Makerspace Organizers

Furthermore, EiTM participated in the Maker Literacies Mini Immersion event on February 23rd, 2024, at the University of Texas Arlington (UTA) Library. The goal of this event was to engage with Maker Literacy standards that their Fablab developed through research studies conducted with UTA students. Some standards they established included students’ abilities to ideate and prototype, be safe in a makerspace environment, and collaborate in teams when making. To see more details about Maker Competencies, please refer to this resource

As part of the Mini Immersion, EiTM evaluated how the literacy standards might be applied to INLS 690: Information Professionals in the Makerspace, which is a recurring course where information science students learn how to express data through making.


Examples of making

Glasswork and Digital Presentation Area in UTA Library Fablab


In addition to the workshop regarding maker literacy standards, we toured UTA Library’s Fablab and networked with other makerspace professionals who attended the event. 

For participating in this event EiTM was granted $2,000 to purchase additional materials for our lab to contribute to students’ learning outcomes. In the past, students in our department have been very interested in making with textile materials such as quilting and crocheting. To expand on the textile making capacities of our lab, we added tufting tools and materials. Initial impressions students had of the addition were excitement and curiosity. We are looking forward to seeing what they create with these new tools! 


Yarn on pegboard

Creating a yarn wall for students to use in tufting


2024 Updates from Equity in the Making Lab

The new year brings with it exciting news from the Equity in the Making (EiTM) Lab. We are thrilled to announce updates about our virtual makerspace, strategies for incorporating inclusive signage in your makerspace, and an overview of upcoming events.

Virtual Makerspace Web Traffic in 2023 

Pie chart of international engagement

Graph illustrating international impact.

We are excited to share that in 2023, our website has attracted 1,446 visitors. This is a 52% increase from 2022, showing a steady growth of  engagement.

The impact of our research reached a global audience in 2023. In 2023, we presented findings from Dr. Melo’s NSF funded study “Equity in the Making: Investigating Spatial Arrangements of Makerspaces and Their Impact on Diverse User Populations” in several national conferences, and two international conferences. The graph shows what engagement the EiTM Lab has had internationally – with viewers from Canada, India, and Australia, amongst others. 

We were also keen to assess how practitioners, librarians, and researchers have used the Virtual Makerspace open educational resource (OER). Overall, the Virtual Makerspace for Researchers & Practitioners has received 570 views since its creation in June 2023, and the virtual makerspace has been accessed 61 times. A couple of users reached out to us following our talk about the Redesigned Virtual Makerspace at the International Symposium of Academic Makerspaces, and we asked how they used the resources. They explained how they shared the Virtual Makerspace with their colleagues and managers, and that findings from our research are shaping their thoughts around makerspace design. Specifically, users stated: 

“We are always trying to see how other spaces are set up to improve our own. The virtual tours definitely help make that a lot easier without having to go to a physical space! Seeing your VR space has given us some ideas of things we can look to implement in the future (the lines that show how to get somewhere).” Louli Kourkounakis, Manager of Rutgers Makerspace at Rutgers University

“I’ve been keeping some of the takeaways in mind around signage, color, furniture choice, and layout, as we plan for events in our space and as we make continuous improvements more generally.” – David Selles, Senior Director of STEAM Education and Operations at The Possible Zone

Future research is needed to understand the full extent of the ways the OERs are used, but the responses we have thus far are promising. 

Signage for Your Makerspace

Whether or not you have utilized the virtual makerspace yet, we are sharing signage ideas that were created for the virtual makerspace, which you can now use in your makerspace! The document linked below showcases. Signage is a small, but impactful way to grant students “permission” to use and interact with the space. Access the Makerspace Stickers created on Canva, or learn more about the types of stickers at this OER “Changes in Re-Designed Makerspace.” To revise the existing makerspace stickers we designed, you can make your own copy of the Makerspace Stickers and revise them with a free Canva account.

Sticker examples granting permission

Examples of stickers that communicate inclusion.

For more information on the study’s findings on signage and makerspace inclusion, check out our publication “The Power of First Impressions: Exploring the Design Impact of ‘Small Details’ and Signage for First-time Makerspace Users.”

Recent and Upcoming EITM Events

Research assistant Grace Zhang (attended in person) and Dr. Melo (participated remotely) attended the CRAFT Network convening 2024 in San Francisco, CA in February. This convening inspired change-making through collaboration and research, advancing the impact of making for equity and education. Grace shared the virtual makerspace with a group of makerspace leaders and practitioners from across the country. Attending the CRAFT Network conference will advance EiTM’s work in equity in making with the national makerspace community and bring back new ideas to inspire future work. 

Additionally, research assistant Rachel Rodney (attending in person) and Dr. Melo (participating remotely) will join the Maker Literacies Mini Immersion on February 23, 2024. Throughout this event, the group aims to delve into maker literacies and examine relevant policies. The aim of the event is to drive learning in maker environments in universities. 

Furthermore, Dr. Melo will be the keynote speaker at Library 2.024’s mini-conference “AI and Libraries: Applications, Implications, and Possibilities” on March 21st. This mini-conference will investigate the impact of AI on libraries and resources in public spaces, to share considerations of how libraries might evolve as AI continues to shape everyday life.


Fall Semester Updates

This Fall Semester, EiTM has been participating in conferences and publishing research from the most recent stage of Dr. Melo’s NSF Career Grant. You can find “Space Invaders: First time makerspace users feel like intruders” by Dr. Maggie Melo and Rachel Rodney published in Library and Information Science Research


Furthermore, “The Power of First Impressions: Exploring the Design Impact of ‘Small Details’ and Signage for First-time Makerspace Users” by Dr. Maggie Melo and Rachel Rodney was published and presented in the 2023 International Symposium on Academic Makerspace (ISAM) at Carnegie Mellon University. Attendees were excited about this research – an intriguing question of one attendee being, ‘how do I keep plants alive in a makerspace without windows?’ From our experience, in a makerspace with windows but in the basement… is to keep buying more when taking them on sunbathing trips outside the department fails to fulfill their needs. 

Welcoming New Research Assistants 

In addition to these accomplishments, EiTM is happy to introduce two new research assistants! Learn more about them below:


Picture of GraceLuxin (Grace) Zhang (She/Her)

Researcher & Master Student, School of Information and Library Science, UNC-CH

Grace is a graduate student in the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Before coming to UNC, she received a B.S. in Business Information Systems with a 4-year scholarship. During the past 5 years of study in the information area, she found her interest in social media and social computing, human-computer interaction (HCI), and health informatics. She likes watching J-Drama and making press-on nails in her free time.


Mackenzie (Kenzie) Novak (She/Her)

Researcher & Undergraduate Junior, School of Information and Library Science, UNC-CH

Kenzie is an undergraduate junior at UNC studying Information Science with minors in AD/PR and Data Science from Ocracoke, NC. She is passionate about User-Centered Design, data visualizations, data mining, and the intersection of information science and marketing.

Other Accomplishments

EiTM’s research assistants are also paving their own ways forward by presenting in conferences. Ph.D. student Rachel Rodney recently presented her talk “Breaking the Research Paradigm: Unlearning Biases and Fostering Inclusive User Experiences” at UX Y’All in October 2023. Additionally, Masters student Luxin (Grace) Zhang will be presenting “Decision Sciences in Practice: Industry 4.0 technologies applications” at the Decision Science Institute (DSI) in November 2023.

This fall, EiTM has not only made significant contributions to conferences and research publications but has also welcomed new research assistants who bring fresh perspectives and expertise to the team. As our research expands and our team grows, we continue to explore intriguing questions and engage in discussions that drive innovation in our field.

The Bridge Between Making and Computing: A Physical Computing Workshop with CHIP High School Program

At the EiTM lab, research assistant Rachel Rodney hosted an engaging workshop with 8 high school students participating in a summer ENABLE program through CHIP (Carolina Health Informatics Program). As part of the students’ exploration of programming within Health Informatics, EiTM introduced them to the exciting world of physical computing, emphasizing the role of User Experience (UX) in the process.


To lay the groundwork for the workshop, Rodney kicked things off with a brief presentation connecting making and programming in the form of physical computing; this was to ensure that the students had a solid understanding of concepts they would need to utilize before diving into the design challenge. Rodney further emphasized the importance of including the user in the process, influenced heavily by Rodney’s background in UX research.


The design challenge was crafted to merge UX principles with physical computing. Rodney presented a persona of Rayna, who uses an upper limb hand prosthetic. Her pain points were two-fold: first, she desired an easier way to create Minecraft figures out of Perler beads, and second, her parents sought a solution to track her emotions (in order to use these data points to discuss later with Rayna).


During the workshop, students were reminded to approach this challenge with an open mind while also being aware of the assumptions they might make during the ideation and prototyping stages. 


The design challenge began with rapid ideation, where students brainstormed and sketched various ideas for tackling Rayna’s pain points. Following ideation, the students moved on to rapid prototyping. Equipped with low-fidelity materials like pipe cleaners, tape, paper, drawing tools, and string, they set out to create tangible prototypes that would help communicate their ideas. The students created solutions ranging from digital applications to physical devices, and even some that combined both aspects. Below are pictures of some of their prototypes!

During the workshop, it was evident that these students were already deeply passionate about equity and accessibility across health informatics. Witnessing the enthusiasm and creativity of these students was inspiring. By encouraging them to think about the end user throughout the design process, EiTM hopes to support a new generation of technologists who prioritize the needs of all users.


Dr. Melo’s Keynote Talk at University of British Columbia

Dr. Melo delivered a keynote at the University of British Columbia’s Inclusive Makerspace Conference on May 25, 2023. The keynote presentation explored the reasons behind students’ hesitations at the makerspace threshold, highlighting the need for inclusive makerspace design, addressing feelings of alienation, and offering practical strategies to create a welcoming environment. The Virtual Makerspace resource was also introduced during the talk, “The Virtual Makerspace is a generative tool to gain user reactions and feedback on a makerspace. We invite you to use it for learning, research, and community building purposes, for example. Here are five methods practitioners and researchers can implement using the Virtual Makerspace.


For more information, please see the keynote description below and the presentation slidedeck.


Dr. Melo standing at podium

Keynote description:

Why do students turn away at the threshold of a makerspace? The makerspace threshold, where students must decide whether to enter or turn away, is a critical area for educators to investigate. This is because it offers valuable insights into students’ gut reactions when making the decision to enter the makerspace. By examining this threshold, educators can better understand why underrepresented communities are hesitant to participate in makerspaces and identify the discrepancies between the Maker Movement’s inclusive goals and the actual demographics they attract.


In this keynote, Melo outlines an approach to capture and analyze previously uncollected data on students’ real-time thoughts and feelings within a makerspace. By using virtual reality to record students’ first impressions and emotions, her research offers a unique perspective on the barriers that prevent diverse user communities from feeling welcome and included. The findings emphasize the significance of permission and purpose for underrepresented students to engage with the makerspace and the importance of addressing the feelings of alienation and exclusion experienced by students. The keynote presentation will not only present the findings on inclusive makerspace design, but it will also offer practical strategies and applications for attendees to use into their own makerspace. Attendees can expect to gain valuable insights and strategies for creating more inclusive makerspace designs that foster a diverse and enriching environment for all.

Equity in the Making Lab Hosts Third Workshop for Older Adults at Durham Center for Senior Life

View of Sphero robot obstacle course from above

People interacting with Sphero robot obstacle course.

The Equity in the Making (EITM) Lab recently concluded its third workshop for older adults at the Durham Center for Senior Life. In collaboration with the Durham County Library and School of Information and Library Science (SILS) alum, Jess Epsten, the team organized two engaging workshops: keepsake box creation and robotics obstacle courses for the Durham Center for Senior Living.
These workshops are part of an outreach initiative arising from Melo’s National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award, which emphasizes the need for focusing on underrepresented maker communities. The workshop designs were informed by the community’s feedback, which called for tech-centric programming and hands-on crafting experiences.

Four people glueing keepsake boxes together

Creating keepsake boxes

People interacting with Sphero robots

Interacting with Sphero robots

Person decorating keepsake box with stickers

Decorating keepsake box

The Equity in the Making Lab team, consisting of Rachel Rodney, Yu Lee An, Jackson Barbee, Hao Zhang, and Principal Investigator (PI) Maggie Melo, facilitated the workshops. Their collective expertise and dedication ensured a smooth and enriching experience for the attendees, demonstrating the value of intergenerational learning opportunities and the impact of creative engagement.

The success of these workshops not only underscores the importance of including seniors in the maker community but also highlights the EITM Lab’s ongoing commitment to fostering inclusive and empowering spaces for diverse populations.

EiTM group picture under Center for Senior Life sign

EiTM group picture

Happy New Year! Looking ahead to 2023!

We have an exciting year ahead with lots in store.

Dr. Melo’s NSF-funded five-year CAREER program project, “Equity in the Making: Investing Spatial Arrangements of Makerspaces and Their Impact on Diverse User Populations,” enters the second half of year two, which will unveil a newly-designed and refined Virtual Reality (VR) makerspace. Last year, working closely with Horizon Productions, Melo and her team redesigned a VR makerspace that reflects findings that arose during the first phase observation.

As in the first phase, participants from historically underrepresented student populations in STEM fields and who have never been to makerspaces will be recruited for this phase of the program. Data will be collected via verbal reporting (i.e., think-aloud protocol) to capture real-time reactions from study participants while they walk around the VR makerspace using a HTC Vive headset or via desktop.

Newly designed VR makerspace

Newly-designed VR makerspace


The new VR makerspace is equipped with everything people would encounter in academic makerspaces, such as computers, a laser cutter, power tools, 3D printers, art supplies, a power tool workspace, a soldering station, and a sewing station with sewing machines. Special attention was paid to the space configuration, arrangement of tools and equipment, workstations, the color of the wall and rugs, signage, shape and size of furnishings, sound, and smell. All of these features are representative of the findings from phase one of the research project.

The second observation phase, which begins in Spring, will allow Melo’s team to gain further insight into why students from historically underrepresented communities shy away from makerspaces. In addition, the findings will help transform other makerspaces from typical run-of-the-mill academic makerspaces to much more inclusive, inviting, and collaborative spaces.

Within the next couple of months, we will launch our Open Educational Resource (OER) textbook, DREEAM: Designing Responsive, Equitable, and Ethical Academic Makerspaces, a how-to guide that will feature open-access publications, a public release of the VR makerspace for educators for them to use to gain insight from the communities they serve, and lesson plans for educators and information professionals. The OER’s primary purpose is to circulate the open-source VR makerspace and Melo’s research findings to encourage other STEM educators to leverage them for their use. DREEAM will be rolled out in parts. A soft pre-launch of the OER will take place via Tiny Café.

We also look forward to participating in the upcoming Inclusive Makerspace Conference hosted by the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, May 23-25. This year’s theme is the “unequivocal implementation of equity, diversity, inclusion, decolonization, anti-racism (EDIDA) frameworks for designing highly critical, responsive, and inclusive makerspaces that start with a culture that promotes equity and reduces disparities.” Dr. Melo will deliver a keynote speech entitled “Space Invaders: First-time Users Feel Like Trespassers in the Makerspace.”

Last but not least, we welcomed a new member, Jackson Brooks Barbee, to the team! Jackson is a senior studying Information Science with strong data analysis, design, and management skills. We are thrilled to have Jackson Brooks Barbee join us.

EiTM Lab in Action at the Durham County Public Library

As a part of our community outreach for the NSF Equity in the Making grant , the EiTM Lab hosted face-to-face keepsake box-making workshops in the Innovation Lab at Durham County Public Library. The two hands-on workshops were an excellent opportunity to connect with community members and share our passion for seeking equity through critical making.

We went to the Durham County Main Library (DCPL) with box-making kits (cut using our laser-cutter), portable makerspace equipment (Cricut Machine, wood burning kits, 3Doodlers), and assorted handicraft and art tools. The Innovation Lab at DCPL was already equipped with 3D printers, laser cutting machines, poster printers, and sewing machines – it was a perfect place for the workshop.

Attendees working on their keepsake boxes

After a short presentation, the participants set out to construct and decorate their wooden keepsake boxes. Participants got to observe and try out the Cricut machine, which was in high-demand. Participants were busy cutting on-demand designs like bull silhouettes (after all, Durham Bulls)s and North Carolina stickers for decorating personalized boxes.

Most workshop participants were 50 years old or better. We also welcomed an 8-year grandchild. Despite some frustration and complications with hot glue guns, by the end of the workshop, every participant went home with a  personalized wooden box with a hinged lid, an experience with making with technology, and an afternoon to remember. One participant left with an additional kit “to teach her husband” at home.

Boxes decorated by participants

Examples of decorated boxes

A thank you email from the Durham Parks & Recreation (DPR) Mature Adult Group Leader said,

“Our Mature Adult participants were so taken with all the tools and ideas they got to try out and be creative with. They are still talking about how much fun they had making their keepsake boxes.”

The truth is that we (the EiTM team) had just as much fun and rewarding experience as the participants did.

Group picture of EiTM and DCPL members


EiTM at Durham County Library

Publication on 3D Printed Prosthetics

person wearing 3d printed hand prosthetic

person wearing 3d printed hand prosthetic


The Global Care Ecosystems of 3D Printed Assistive Devices” was published in the ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing. EitM Research Assistant, Rachel Rodney, supported this research during her undergraduate program by interviewing and analyzing data from stakeholders in the experience of a user receiving and using a 3D printed prosthetics. Below is the article abstract: 


The popularity of 3D printed assistive technology has led to the emergence of new ecosystems of care, where multiple stakeholders (makers, clinicians, and recipients with disabilities) work toward creating new upper limb prosthetic devices. However, despite the increasing growth, we currently know little about the differences between these care ecosystems. Medical regulations and the prevailing culture have greatly impacted how ecosystems are structured and stakeholders work together, including whether clinicians and makers collaborate. To better understand these care ecosystems, we interviewed a range of stakeholders from multiple countries, including Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, France, India, Mexico, and the U.S. Our broad analysis allowed us to uncover different working examples of how multiple stakeholders collaborate within these care ecosystems and the main challenges they face. Through our study, we were able to uncover that the ecosystems with multi-stakeholder collaborations exist (something prior work had not seen), and these ecosystems showed increased success and impact. We also identified some of the key follow-up practices to reduce device abandonment. Of particular importance are to have ecosystems put in place follow up practices that integrate formal agreements and compensations for participation (which do not need to be just monetary). We identified that these features helped to ensure multi-stakeholder involvement and ecosystem sustainability. We finished the paper with socio-technical recommendations to create vibrant care ecosystems that include multiple stakeholders in the production of 3D printed assistive devices.


3D printed prosthetics are an example of equitable making, which is a core value of the EitM Lab. 3D printing prosthetics meets the needs of several intersecting barriers – accessibility, affordability, and flexibility in terms of directly personalizing the devices. The 3D models of prosthetics can be modified for use while playing sports, such as throwing a tennis ball, or altering the prosthetics over time to fit children as they grow. The additional bonus of being able to choose what colors the prosthetic can be makes them more personable so users can design them to align more with their identity.

3D Printing Without 3D Modeling Experience

Phone holders, vases, pixel cats…the possibilities are endless with 3D printing. Unfortunately, modeling objects for 3D printing is not as exciting as the possibilities. Many people are not comfortable or familiar with 3D modeling softwares such as SolidWorks, Rhino or Blender. However, 3D modeling is not needed in order to print objects.

To show people how to find objects to print as well as use the Ultimaker 3D printer we have in the EitM lab, research assistant Rachel Rodney created a how-to guide on finding 3D objects on Thingiverse and printing them. She tested these instructions with a classmate who had no prior 3D modeling or 3D printing experience. This classmate found the instructions easy to follow, and had started printing a snake within a few minutes. This classmate also noted that if she knew it was this simple to use the 3D printer, she would have started using it a long time ago. 

Having instructions available is important to making our makerspace inclusive. A barrier that people experience when using makerspaces is that they are not sure how to use the tools, and feel uncomfortable in the process of figuring things out. By having step-by-step instructions, our goal is that students will feel more comfortable entering our space and testing things out without knowledge being a barrier.


multiple 3D printed objects

Examples of 3D printed objects in lab