An Interview with Meg McMahon

Person with shoulder-length hair and glasses standing in front of a blank wall with a blue shirt that reads, "stay curious"

Meg McMahon is a second year information science graduate student at UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Library and Information Science. They are a graduate research assistant in the Kenan Science Library and a research and design graduate assistant for the R.B. House Undergraduate Library. Both positions focus on instruction, research, and design for libraries and makerspaces. Meg tells us about a series of makerspace design classes that they are designing for BeAM here:

What made you decide to start designing makerspace curriculum? How did the project begin?
Interestingly enough the project actually didn’t start with me, it was a project conceived by my boss Jennie Goforth, who runs the Design Lab at the Undergraduate Library and Anna Engelke, who works for the Be A Maker Makerspace (BeAM). Without their support and guidance this project would have never happened.

In 2018 Jennie created a few SkillFUL workshops for designing for the laser cutter that ran during the normal SkillFUL schedule. SkillfUL is the Design Lab’s Technology Workshop series. When I was hired as a Research and Design Graduate Student, I was tapped on the shoulder in the Fall of 2019 to start finalizing a design for laser cutter class for BeAM to roll out in the Fall of 2020. I was brought on because of my interest in academic makerspaces and my experience as an Art Educator before coming to graduate school.

What, if any, obstacles did your project face?
The hardest obstacle was trying to understand what Adobe Illustrator skills were the most important for students to understand. There are so many different Illustrator techniques that could go into one laser cutter file! After talking with student workers and developing several designs myself, I was able to understand the basics enough to create a curriculum that addressed many of the skills one would need to create a basic or advanced laser cut design.

Also, I critically thought about designing both for the students in the class and the student workers teaching the class. In the end I was not only creating a curriculum for students to learn, I was creating a manual, a slide deck, and an outline. I have to train the student staff at BeAM so that there will be standardization across each individual workshop so every student in the design for the laser cutter class will have the same experience.

Why should students be interested in making?
Making is an area where students are encouraged to fail for the best reason, iterative design. The first iteration of a design is never going to be perfect, but through making students are able to learn from their mistakes and create a better design. Also, it is a great stress relief.

What was your first experience with digital humanities? With makerspaces?
My first experience with digital humanities was helping design a website for the School of Human Ecology at UW-Madison. There, I experimented with many different ways of displaying design information and information about humanities-based projects as well as making a couple of designs myself to showcase the school’s initiatives and projects. My first time in a makerspace was as a Creative Consultant for a sort of makerspace in undergrad called Wheelhouse Studios. I say sort of makerspace because it focused a lot on arts, but there were making elements to within the space like soldering and digital design.

If you had to convince someone to take one of your makerspace classes in 5 words, what would they be?
Don’t wait to start making.

What’s your dream DH project (if you could work on anything with any skill set in any field, what would it
This is a good question! I want to work on helping create a community of practice around makerspace tech for graduate students at a University. I know it isn’t a project per say, but it is a great way to help others fulfill their own projects and for me it would be more satisfying than working on any one project.