Create and Innovate in The Alley

Male student builds with tools and wires in The Alley
Male student builds with tools and wires in The Alley
The Alley, a makerspace located in the Memorial Union Building, provides an innovation hub for the University community

Students, staff and faculty meet in Michigan Tech's makerspace, The Alley, to bring ideas to life.

Did you know Michigan Technological University used to have a bowling alley in the Memorial Union Building (MUB) basement? Well, it’s not a bowling alley anymore. It’s something better: the Alley makerspace.

What is a makerspace? It is an environment where the Michigan Tech community—students, staff and faculty—is encouraged and supported to create.

The Alley started as a collaborative effort that included Mary Raber, assistant dean of academic programs for Pavlis Honors College, director of global leadership and co-director of the Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship. But until the fall of 2014, it was only a dream. The University Innovation (UI) Fellows—a global program that empowers students to become change agents at their schools—wanted to provide a makerspace on campus to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship for the entire community—at no cost. So they took that dream and ran with it.

Once the UI Fellows decided to create a makerspace, the next step was to figure out what the University community wanted from it. “On a Friday night in November 2015, we invited the campus community to help design the space,” said Magann Dykema, the Alley’s student director. From there, the fellows determined what requests could be met. Dykema said the makerspace is a prototype in itself, as it is “always adapting as people request more things to go in the space.”

Students talk to each other while working on a project in The Alley
Students collaborate in The Alley–Michigan Tech's makerspace

Michigan Tech President Glenn Mroz gave the old MUB bowling alley to the UI Fellows for the makerspace under the condition that the lanes stay. The lanes remain, and the Alley makerspace opened its doors in the fall of 2016, equipped with tables that Milwaukee Tool, the Alley’s first sponsor, built during Orientation Week with a group of about 30 students. The Alley holds open hours from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Class-like events are also held and led by student coaches who specialize in different programs and tools to encourage peers to sharpen their skills.

For example, student coach Alex Israels led a seminar on how to build a robotic autonomous car with Arduino, an open source microcontroller used for prototyping. Now a second-year student, Israels started volunteering as a coach his first year at Tech.

“It was really rewarding to see other students like me get excited and understand all the cool things that they can do with one of these microcontrollers,” Israels says, “It's an amazing environment where people work hard to build others up and share their ideas and creativity.”

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.