Sierra College Incorporates the Maker Mindset Into Education

Karen Fraser-Middleton
Innovation Showcase

In 2014, Sierra College, located in Rocklin, CA, was one of the first community colleges in the nation to establish a public/private partnership with Hacker Lab, a Sacramento community-based makerspace, to enhance students’ education through maker experiences. Through a competitive process, Sierra College was awarded a $350,000 CCC Maker Grant in July 2017, renewable for a second year, from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO), Workforce and Economic Development Division, under the Doing What MATTERS for Jobs and the Economy framework. Sierra College is one of 24 CCC Maker colleges creating inclusive makerspace communities, providing internships, and developing curriculum to prepare students with innovation and entrepreneurial skills to thrive in the regional economy. Sierra College was also selected by the CCCCO to be the administrator and fiscal agent for the statewide $17 million CCC Maker initiative.

As part of the CCC Maker initiative, Sierra College is collaborating with other community colleges, sharing best practices to prepare students for the innovation economy, and developing a model for creating college makerspace communities, explained Willy Duncan, Sierra College Superintendent/President. “We’ve made a conscious decision to partner with community makerspaces, such as Hacker Lab in Rocklin, Curious Forge in Grass Valley, and Truckee Roundhouse in Truckee, that are near our campuses and reflect the unique culture, interests, and businesses in each part of the region,” said Duncan.

The college hired Dominic Felipe Gutierrez as the Sierra Makerspaces Director to be the liaison between the campuses and the community makerspaces. “Engaging community college students and faculty in makerspaces, and growing the maker and entrepreneurial mindset to develop creative, passionate, curious, and persistent life-long learners and educators, is essential to complement existing college programs,” said Gutierrez. “The skills needed by employers are changing so rapidly that Sierra College is boldly embracing this initiative to transform what we teach and how we teach.”

“In a makerspace community, members teach each other and collaborate on projects,” said Gutierrez.

Students may teach faculty and business owners skills, and they in turn may mentor students. There is a natural comradery when people are working in a shared work space and learning creative ways to use laser cutters, 3D printers and electronics, with a variety of materials such as fabric, wood and recyclables to develop new products or complete class projects.

Sierra College faculty members are learning in the makerspaces as well as developing new maker curriculum and digital badges for specific skills. Students are preparing for careers through relevant maker experiences with the three community makerspace partners. As part of the statewide CCC Maker project, Sierra College is offering student internships and work-based learning experiences with maker skills.

Faculty Embrace Making

According to Kim Bateman, Dean of the Tahoe-Truckee Campus of Sierra College, the grant and partnership with Truckee Roundhouse has opened up amazing opportunities for students. “Integrating makerspaces into education is the most exciting thing to happen in my educational career,” said Bateman.

Students learn so much from experimentation and collaboration. For example, art students in our two-dimensional design course are discussing design in the classroom, going upstairs to the Sierra College computer lab to layout original projects in Illustrator, and then taking their digital files over to the Truckee Roundhouse to program their work to be executed on the laser cutter. It’s the perfect bridge between theory and real-world applications.

A Sierra College student has been hired to be a Maker-in-Residence at Truckee Roundhouse, explained Bateman. “Sierra College art students learned safety and equipment operation at the makerspace and then signed up for four open studios, supervised by the Student Maker–in-Residence, to complete their projects,” said Bateman.

We are also planning a new developmental math class next fall where hands-on projects will be integrated into the curriculum and students will learn the technology to actualize their designs in the Truckee Roundhouse makerspace. Similarly, in partnership with the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, Adult School students learn design skills, come to the Sierra College computer lab to digitize the projects, and then make their projects at Truckee Roundhouse.

According to Steve Hunter, Faculty Maker-in-Residence, Sierra College faculty members have participated in professional development to learn new digital and technical skills as well as incorporate making and entrepreneurship into curriculum. Zack Dowell, Faculty Lead, Folsom Lake College Innovation Center, also conducted faculty professional development on integrating making into the curriculum at the Curious Forge makerspace in Nevada City.

Additionally, faculty members have been invited to bring their families to the makerspaces for fun events to make projects on the spot. “Katie Lucero, Mathematics faculty member, worked with me to organize Halloween and holiday maker nights with an amazing team of over 60 students, college volunteers, and community members at Hacker Lab powered by Sierra College,” said Hunter. “Over 100 people of all ages attended both events. Participants made holiday gifts for people in need and donated $700 and a van load of food to the Sierra College food closet.” 

Makerspaces Develop Student Leaders

The college is already seeing student leaders emerge, explained Duncan. “Savanna Turner, engineering major, is participating in the international Stanford University Design School Innovation Fellows program as a result of the CCC Maker initiative,” said Duncan.

Savanna has plans to spread an entrepreneurial mindset throughout our campus. Makerspaces are giving cutting-edge opportunities to Sierra College students to learn new technologies through hands-on experiences, connect with businesses, and prepare for careers in emerging industries that fuel economic development.

For students, makerspaces create opportunity beyond the classroom, explained Hunter. “Naima Pagano, Sierra College fashion student, came to Hacker Lab seeking access to the industrial sewing machines,” said Hunter.

She soon created her own business repurposing old garments into new creations. Then, Naima took her maker experience to Curious Forge, started teaching textile arts, became the manager of the Forge's textile space, and now has a paid position as the Program Developer for Curious Forge.

According to Hunter, Sierra College students or former students are now makerspace instructors in areas such as 3D printing and Arduino microcontroller programming and interfacing. “Sierra College students Kenny Penaluna and Heather Lincoln have become instructors and leaders in the Rocklin Hacker Lab makerspace,” said Hunter. “Kenny developed welding curriculum, set up the makerspace welding area, and teaches classes related to gas and electric welding /cutting. Heather developed the laser cutter curriculum and teaches laser cutting principles to include the graphic design software.”

Community Supports Student Makers

Partnerships have leveraged the CCC Maker grant funding to impact more students. For example, the Sierra College Foundation, with U.S. Bank, funded student makerspace memberships for those enrolled in Business 141 and Mechatronics 90.

At the end of the semester, Sierra College Mechatronics 90 students developed and presented Mechatronics for Humanity projects designed to make a positive impact on the world at a showcase event held in the Hacker Lab powered by Sierra College makerspace. According to Carol Pepper-Kittredge, Statewide Project Manager, CCC Maker, colleges across the state are building makerspaces and forging connections with industry partners to better prepare students for careers. “The Mechatronics for Humanity showcase encourages students to think like entrepreneurs and pushes them to consider how their work can have social benefit and impact the wider community,” said Pepper-Kittredge.

Student Vivian Raeside won first place for her solar-powered water purification system and indicated that she was inspired by her camping experiences to develop the showcase project. “First the water is pumped through a filter that removes 99 percent of bacteria (such as e-coli) and protozoa (such as giardia),” said Raeside.

Then, it automatically stirs the water while a UV light destroys 99 percent of the remaining viruses, bacteria and protozoa. A sensor causes a warning light to turn on when the system runs out of water. The challenge is making it small enough to be portable.

The students indicated that access to Hacker Lab powered by Sierra College helped them with completing their projects. “Hacker Lab was a lifesaver,” said Raeside.

The people in the Hacker Lab community showed me how to use tools and helped me trouble shoot problems. I used the laser cutter to produce custom parts that I designed. It is open all day, every day so I always had a place to work on my project. I couldn’t have won this recognition without the support of Hacker Lab.

The Mechatronics for Humanity project allows students to showcase everything they’ve learned while completing the Mechatronics program and prepares them for employment, explains Michael Halbern, Mechatronics Professor, Sierra College. “At a makerspace like Hacker Lab, students interact with engineers, learn to use specialized tools, and experience the real-world collaboration needed to turn ideas into reality,” said Halbern. “The support from industry partners like U.S. Bank is essential for connecting students with careers.”

Maker Faire Connects College With Ecosystem

In partnership with the City of Rocklin, the 3rd annual Rocklin Mini Maker Faire was held at Sierra College in October 2017 and introduced over 8,000 residents to making. Similarly, Sierra College participated in two maker activity booths in the Truckee area—the Truckee Mini Maker Faire and the Annual Truckee Airshow—and brought the Sierra College mobile welding lab. 

At the Rocklin Mini Maker Faire, students, faculty members, and staff hosted booths, provided tours of campus labs, and engaged community members in maker activities. The Sierra Makerspaces booth was led by student Heather Lincoln, who found that the most popular tool was her 3D printer pen. Children and adults used the pen to lay down a 2D shape, such as a triangle. When the children stood the shape up to build a 3D object, it gave them an instant ah-ha on how 2D objects are translated to become multidimensional. 

Sierra College Makerspaces also arranged for the Girls Scouts to be involved in the Rocklin Faire. The college provided the materials for Girls Scouts to use in helping attendees create their own inventions with squishy circuits. By using conductive and insulating play dough with LED lights, squishy circuits teach children about electrical circuits.

At the Rocklin Mini Maker Faire, special guest Dale Dougherty, Founder and CEO, Maker Media, Inc. and founder of the Maker Faire, guided a panel discussion titled Global and Local Effects by the Maker Movement with Brook Drumm, CEO of Printrbot; Eric Ullrich, President of Hacker Lab; Willy Duncan, Superintendent/President of Sierra College; Carol Pepper-Kittredge, Statewide Project Manager, CCC Maker; and Nile Mittow, Chief Innovation Engineer at Hacker Lab. 

Internships Prepare Students for Careers

In the spring 2018 semester, Gutierrez said that Sierra Makerspaces will be arranging 30 internships for Sierra College students with local employers. “The CCC Maker grant offers funding for 20 hours of internship experience and we are currently seeking business interested in interviewing interns,” said Gutierrez. “We held the first student training in January to certify students in ‘ready to work’ skills. Aleda Vaughn, Sierra College Welding faculty member, delivered New World of Work (NWOW) Modules on Communication, Analysis/Solution Mindset, and Entrepreneurial Mindset.”

Click here to learn more about Sierra Makerspaces. For information about the CCC Maker statewide initiative, visit

Karen Fraser-Middleton is President of Marketing Action, Inc. and a Strategic Communication Consultant to Sierra College for the Sierra Makerspaces and CCC Maker projects.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.