2 UC Berkeley makerspaces provide remote access to services amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Katie Lee/Staff
Only two staff members are currently allowed in the CITRIS Invention Lab, which, before the pandemic, saw about 800 people per semester, according to lab director Eric Paulos.

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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the makerspaces of UC Berkeley’s CITRIS Invention Lab and Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation have added remote services and are not requiring Maker Passes for access to services during the fall 2020 semester.

The makerspaces provided campus students, faculty and staff who had Maker Passes access to systems of tools and machinery before the pandemic. Campus members no longer need a Maker Pass to access these resources, and nonessential staff cannot physically go inside the two spaces.

Additionally, the makerspaces have transitioned to remote assistance, according to Joey Gottbrath, technical lab lead at the Jacobs Institute.

Students can utilize the CITRIS Invention Lab by filling out a request form, through which students submit jobs for staff to print or fabricate, according to CITRIS Invention Lab director Eric Paulos. The Jacobs Institute’s 3D printers can also be used remotely by the campus community, and eligible students and faculty can use more of the Jacobs makerspace services, according to the Jacobs Institute website.

“We want to be able to support (students), their projects, their ideas and their innovations,” Paulos said.

The Jacobs Institute used to see 1,400 students per semester and hundreds per day, and it is now physically accessible to only student workers and five staff members, Gottbrath said. Only two staff members are currently allowed in the CITRIS lab, which, before the pandemic, saw about 800 people per semester, according to Paulos.

Both makerspaces have not been reopened for students to physically access due to COVID-19 guidelines, but they are working to hold virtual workshops, Paulos added.

With the removal of the Maker Pass and the introduction of remote services, both students and staff noted the new system’s accessibility. According to campus senior Ray Altenberg, a facilitator of the “3D Printing and Design” DeCal course, the accessibility of the makerspaces is vital because not all students have equitable access to fabrication machinery while other facilities are shut down.

“Maker Pass is pretty good at trying to make sure that it’s financially accessible to people … but this definitely helps even more because people’s financial situations have changed during the pandemic,” Altenberg said.

Current plans indicate that the makerspace system will not return to its original operations but will instead incorporate both hands-on and remote involvement after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Gottbrath said.

Paulos said he is uncertain as to whether or not they will reintroduce the Maker Pass itself. The new service model accommodates students who are intimidated by the training necessary to use tools in person or are unable to fit a trip in between their classes, according to Gottbrath.

“In some ways, we’re a more equitable makerspace than before because now we can serve any student on campus, whereas before, you had to be able to physically come in,” Gottbrath said.

Contact Cameron Rebosio at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @cameron_rebosio.