Making to Learn

A gift from a lifelong STEM practitioner takes Tufts' makerspaces to a whole new level.
Architectural rendering of the Nolop FAST Facility

Architectural rendering of the Nolop FAST Facility. Rendering: EYP Architecture

Back in 2012, an engineering undergraduate had an idea for Professor Chris Rogers: How about a space for hands-on projects? Five years later, that idea has grown into no fewer than ten makerspaces across the Medford campus.

Today, hundreds of students are designing, drilling, 3-D printing, laser-cutting, experimenting, and collaborating in these facilities—and the biggest one yet is on the way, thanks to a $2 million gift to Tufts School of Engineering from the estate of the former pharmaceutical executive Keith Nolop.

The Nolop Fabrication, Analysis, Simulation, and Testing (FAST) Facility, scheduled to open in June 2018, will include a digital lab with 3D and large-format printers; an advanced “dirty” lab with vinyl cutters, drill press, and bandsaw; and a large assembly area. The 5,000-square-foot lab, in the basement of Robinson Hall, will also include a Genius Bar, offering expert assistance, made possible with a generous naming gift by School of Engineering Advisor Robert Stricker, E69, and his wife Jane.

“There’s been a lot of research that shows that learning with your hands and driving your own education teaches different skills than the more conventional passively taking in knowledge,” said Chris Rogers, now chair of the mechanical engineering department.

That’s exactly the way Keith Nolop learned when he was a child, said his younger brother Neil, the executor of his estate. Growing up, Neil said, Keith excelled in science and math and showed a deep love for data. He always took charge of his own learning, and in his later years became an international traveler, bass guitar player, and writer. “He was intellectually very curious, and physically very curious too,” Neil said.

Keith was also passionate about helping young people learn, Neil said, as evidenced by his financial support to university programs. “A makerspace, I think, is a very good match with what he would have wanted, and Tufts is the only one that has that kind of setup,” said Neil, whose sons, Andre, A13, and Christopher, A11, are both Jumbos.

Architectural rendering of the Nolop FAST Facility

Architectural rendering of the Nolop FAST Facility. Rendering: EYP Architecture

Rogers predicts that makerspaces will continue to thrive at Tufts. “The hope is that by bringing this facility online, we will get more engineers working side by side with non-engineers, which will teach students how to learn from each other and leverage each other’s knowledge,” he said.

The fruits of this kind of learning could be great, added Engineering School Dean Jianmin Qu. “The makerspace provides a fertile ground for creativity and innovative thinking,” he said. “Tufts School of Engineering is honored that Keith’s family would celebrate and remember him by building the Nolop FAST Facility.”