Syracuse University Magazine

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SU MakerSpace manager John Mangicaro holds a 3D graph prototype he created for a student who is visually impaired. Photo by Steve Sartori

“Here people collaborate with others from different disciplines, people they would not normally work with.” —John Mangicaro



MakerSpace Magic: 3D Printing Helps Students

Maxwell professor Jerry Evensky G’82, G’84 knew before classes started last fall he would have a student who is visually impaired and would need assistance in his course Economics Ideas and Issues. So in June 2016, Evensky reached out to John Mangicaro, manager of the SU MakerSpace, Information Technology Services’ public digital fabrication lab. “John, I hear you do magic in the MakerSpace,” Evensky told Mangicaro. “I’ve got an idea, and I want to see if it’s something you’d help me with.” His course featured graphs with intersecting trend lines, and he hoped that MakerSpace would have a solution to help his student effectively grasp the concepts and visualize the graphs and trends. 

The SU MakerSpace, in Kimmel Hall, offers 3D printers and CNC (computer numerical control) machines, including a laser cutter, commercial-grade embroidery machine, vinyl cutter, router, lathe, fourth-axis mill, wire bender, and more—creating endless fabrication possibilities. “3D is a different concept and method of building,” Mangicaro says. “At first, most people have no idea what they can do here. They don’t even know what the possibilities are.” 

Evensky sent Mangicaro every textbook chapter from the course. Mangicaro extracted the graph images, simplified them, and added details so that, once 3D printed, the student would be able to correctly orient the graph, and feel its axis lines and data plots. “I experimented until Jerry was satisfied,” Mangicaro says. The 3D graphs worked so well the student used them in class while taking exams. “The 3D printing was such a valuable asset,” Evensky says. “The student would study the graphs by touch; it was a huge accomplishment.” 

Although the 3D graphs were useful, another factor in the student’s success was working with his tutor and the course’s teaching assistant, Cassandra Kramp ’18, a Whitman School of Management student and student employee of the Office of Disability Services. Like Evensky, Kramp says at first she found it challenging to accommodate the student’s needs, but soon saw the 3D graphs as a superb solution. “I had to change my mindset to communicate effectively with the student because the course is so graph-heavy,” Kramp says. “Once we taught ourselves how to use the 3D graphs, it was very rewarding to see him understand the material as well as anyone else in the class.” 

The process wasn’t always smooth, though. “John understood what I was trying to do and he was patient with me,” Evensky says. In the project’s initial stages, Mangicaro provided various prototypes showing how deep he could make the ridges. It took a few tries until they settled on the best models. Mangicaro admits that’s normal in the MakerSpace. “If you’re fortunate enough, your project won’t work the first time,” Mangicaro says. “It’ll fail three or four times, and you’ll learn a whole lot more than having it work out right from the start.”

Evensky isn’t alone in his use of MakerSpace, which supports other courses and helps students from across campus. Chemistry students use the MakerSpace to create 3D molecules; School of Education students can take a course in which Mangicaro instructs how to use the models and 3D printers. “Aerospace students work on airplanes and airfoils, architecture students build façades, and engineering students make all kinds of mechanical devices,” he says. “Here people collaborate with others from different disciplines, people they would not normally work with.” 

Mangicaro works to ensure MakerSpace creates and nurtures opportunities for students and faculty alike, from any discipline. “There’s no bad idea in the MakerSpace,” he says. Gabriella Salkin