Texas Tech University

College of Human Sciences Future is Bright with Newly Formed Makerspace

January 22, 2024

College of Human Sciences Future is Bright with Newly Formed Makerspace

Through a grant from the Helen Jones Foundation, Inc., the Family and Consumer Sciences Education program now has equipment for hands-on learning experiences.

There is a critical shortage of certified family and consumer sciences teachers and extension agents in Texas and nationally. 

Factors for this decline in what was formerly known as home economics educators include job dissatisfaction, program image issues, and retirement. This has forced many secondary schools across the U.S. to decide whether to suspend these programs or hire less-qualified teachers. 

But Texas Tech University's College of Human Sciences is working to close this gap through its Family and Consumer Sciences Education (FCSE) program. Thanks to a $20,000 grant from the Helen Jones Foundation, Inc, the college has developed a makerspace equipped with a 3D printer; a Tower Garden aeroponics growing system; Chief Architect design software; LilyPad sewing circuits; an embroidery machine; and a mobile kitchen cart, cooktop and sink.  

FCSE Program Chair Karen Alexander, also the director of the Curriculum Center for Family and Consumer Sciences, is proud of how the makerspace has enhanced the curriculum with hands-on learning opportunities starting last fall semester. 

“We are really trying to replicate what a lot of our graduates might be able to do with their own family and consumer sciences programs when they have their own classroom, because the concept of a makerspace is growing in schools,” she said. “Our makerspace is giving them ideas of how to facilitate one in their own classroom.”

Gencie Houy
Gencie Houy

Gencie Houy is an FCSE lecturer who has not only implemented makerspace projects in her classes but completed the research and, along with Alexander, wrote the makerspace grant application – a first for her. 

“To be successful and know that somebody else sees the credibility in what you're doing was the most exciting to me,” Houy said. “The Helen Jones Foundation thought this was an amazing idea, and it really has already made a huge difference even though we haven't been able to implement everything yet.” 

The concept of the makerspace originated from Kristie Storms, an FCSE assistant professor of practice who wanted to give students more chances to be creative, artistic, industrious, and even entrepreneurial through the use of a makerspace. 

Kristie Storms
Kristie Storms

Storms put together a couple of makerspace grant applications, but before she could finish, she passed away in August 2020. 

Houy, who has 12 years of experience teaching for Lubbock Independent School District, had worked with Storms at both Lubbock ISD and Texas Tech. She felt saddened by the loss of someone who brought so much creative energy to campus. 

“Our brains thought alike, and she really wanted to take our educator preparation program to the next level,” Houy said. “So, we wanted to carry on her legacy in that way.”

Houy had the privilege of working with similar makerspace equipment during her time as a public school teacher, such as a 3D printer and an embroidery machine. With that background knowledge in mind, she formulated many class projects that have put the makerspace to good use. 

Making with the Makerspace 

In Houy's apparel class, some of her students chose to make a lion plush for their final project. Instead of hand stitching the face, which can be difficult to execute, the students opted to use the makerspace's embroidery machine. 

“They embroidered the cutest little lion face on their piece of fabric,” Houy said. “It really took their projects up to the next level from looking homemade to looking professional. They were really excited about that.”

embroidery project
Embroidery project

Although Houy admits there was a learning curve with the Tower Garden aeroponics growing system, she was impressed how the setup guided students in seed selection, germination, lighting, mineral balance, engineering of machines, harvesting, and the science of eating.

With regularly scheduled watering and maintenance, students were not only able to understand how to care for equipment and manage a classroom lab, but how to grow an abundance of herbs like basil. Once the basil was harvested, they used it to make recipes like basil pesto. 

“They took the things they were managing all year long and were then able to use them in their food lab to show that they can take it from start to finish – from farm to table,” Houy said. “That's exactly what we want our students to learn.”

Tower GardenTower Garden HarvestTower Garden Harvest
Tower garden

One of Alexander's favorite projects Houy has led includes forming custom cookie cutters with the 3D printer to share about different cuts of beef with her culinary students. She also was impressed with how Houy teamed up with other faculty members to create vinyl transfers for T-shirts with a Cricut cutting machine. 

“That was the way they introduced their placement for student teaching,” Alexander said. “So, thinking from an entrepreneurial standpoint, that would be an example of where students could create their own T-shirt design and multiples could be made for a fundraiser project.”

In addition, the demonstration table/cooktop has allowed students to practice the necessary skills to teach in a cooking lab. The cart has running water, an oven, stovetop and stainless-steel side tables that are big enough for about 10 students to gather around.

Kitchen Cart
Kitchen cart

Lubbock and surrounding area AgriLife Extension agents have used the demonstration table/cooktop to deliver programs on different cooking methods in the makerspace. Beyond that, students shared a presentation during First-Gen Week showing safe kitchen knife skills. 

Cooking project.
Cooking project

The demonstration table/cooktop also has allowed outreach opportunities to most family and consumer sciences middle and high school classes in Lubbock and surrounding areas. 

“My college students are getting practice teaching middle school students in the safety of our classroom,” Houy said. “Then, their students are benefitting by getting to utilize university equipment and the really cool things we have in our makerspace.”

FCSE OutreachFCSE Outreach
FCSE Outreach

The demonstration table/cooktop has even helped implement STEM lessons such as antimicrobials, antioxidants, bacteria, enzymes, taste receptors, taste sensory neurons in the brain, nutrients in foods, precise measuring, proper food storage and handling, pasteurization technology, and much more.

Houy concludes that these projects have built a deeper understanding of STEM principles for her students as well as a better understanding of cross-curricular practices. Additionally, Lubbock area teachers who are interested in STEM initiatives have partnered with the FCSE. 

“The makerspace is unique to the FCSE program and has allowed it to be a national leader, as no other family and consumer sciences teacher education program that we know of offers this opportunity,” Houy said. “The products and student learning of the makerspace live up to the mission and values of the College of Human Sciences, which is to ‘improve and enhance the human condition.'”

Makerspace Projects to Come 

While the fall 2023 semester was the premier of a successful makerspace, Houy and Alexander look forward to the creations of this spring 2024 semester and beyond. 

Houy formed a couple of makerspace courses that will introduce more advanced projects to interested students. Along with more plans to utilize the 3D Printer, she will also introduce the Chief Architect software. This will allow students to plan classroom layout and design options. 

She is particularly looking forward to using the LilyPad circuit, which is a line of sewable electronics that engage students with e-textiles, circuitry, and crafting.

“That's going to be really fun to implement,” Houy said. “You can add electrical designs to whatever it is you're making, whether it's for an interior design project, an apparel project, or even creating a bulletin board.”

For Alexander, she is most excited for the recruiting potential the makerspace will offer, especially during their Say Yes to FCS Teaching Camp designed for middle and high school students who are considering becoming family and consumer sciences educators. 

“This puts us out in the forefront and allows us to continue to be a leader in the field,” she said. “The idea that we have this wonderful equipment and these hands-on learning experiences is really exciting for us as we recruit for our program.”

Both Houy and Alexander extended their immense gratitude for the Helen Jones Foundation for not only recognizing the value of their makerspace projects but brightening the outlook for FSCE. 

“By having this makerspace and all these research-based strategies we use, it helps enhance our students, and in turn, enhances our entire school system and our society by helping build essential skills they need,” Houy said. “I'm excited the teachers we produce will be even more top tier because we have this makerspace they will be able to implement in their own classrooms in the future.”

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