I was worried I wouldn’t fit in at graduate school. After having been in the workforce for four years, I was excited to be entering my first year at Georgetown University’s communication, culture and technology M.A. program, but I was also worried that my study skills would be rusty; I didn’t have to spend much time reading or writing papers at my old job. I spent most of my time conducting research, drafting slide decks or generating social media posts.
Thankfully, I was wrong. Volunteering at the Maker Hub helped me understand that job experience could be an asset. My anxiety over returning to school turned out to be unfounded. Yes, reading for long periods of time and writing papers has been more difficult than it was in undergrad, but the Maker Hub has shown that my work experience has value and that I belong at Georgetown.
Since starting my volunteer shifts, I have learned how to sew an apron, make a button, perfectly laminate a cartoon cutout and tinker with Internet of Things devices. I have also had the pleasure of getting to know some of the folks who make use of the space. As a Maker Hub volunteer, I help students create banners for clubs or events, work on school assignments or work on personal projects. Upon entering the Maker Hub, the care and effort volunteers and staff alike have put into the space is clear. It’s warm, and even if we can’t help you “do it yourself,” we’ll try to point you in the right direction
When students enter the space, volunteers need to make sure they are checked in and that each student has gone through safety training. I have to know how to both make sure students are following the rules and be approachable enough for students to ask about the tools in the space. You also have to learn how to solve problems on your own. If someone asks where the glue guns are, it’s important to know how to look for all the glue guns that are, for some reason, not in the glue gun bin.
These skills may not seem important, but knowing how to anticipate the needs of others or troubleshoot a problem on your own are essential skills that I worked very hard to develop during my time in the workforce. When I help students visiting the Maker Hub, the skills I learned on the job feel valuable even in the academic setting. The process of writing graduate-level papers feels more manageable now that I have a place where I can go to problem-solve, work with my hands and feel like I belong.
Recently, someone came into the Maker Hub without a project in mind. She had just heard about the space and wanted to see what she could do. She told me she didn’t know where to start but seemed intrigued by the sewing machine, so I suggested we start there. I showed her the basics, like where to put the bobbin and how to not stab yourself with the needle. Once she felt comfortable with the machine, I left her to tinker with it. After about an hour she showed me what she had made — two small bags and a pencil case — all of which looked amazing.
At work, I learned how important it can be to both understand your role in a space and react quickly to make sure you serve that role. It would have been easy to not make a suggestion, making the other student decide what she wanted to work on. As a volunteer, however, my role is to help folks find success while they work in the space, and sometimes that means being proactive and making suggestions to help visitors find their goal.
Using my skills from the workforce of thinking on my feet and working with other people, particularly teaching someone else a skill, made me feel more confident, as if I could contribute to my community. It proved to me that the skills I developed while working could still be relevant to my academic career, thanks to the Maker Hub. I encourage any students who are looking for their place in school — or who just want to come by and explore the space — to visit us in the basement of Lauinger Library.
Chelsea Sanchez is a graduate student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences..