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Makers By Design NSF Grant

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Makers By Design: Supporting Instructors to Embed Design Thinking in Digital Fabrication Courses

Grant Overview

The Makers By Design Grant is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Program (Award #2055324). This project provides professional development for educators through an annual design thinking fellowship which provides teachers, librarians and faculty with a series of professional development sessions on design thinking. Educators are able to implement design thinking lessons as a part of their class, in a summer camp, or through a design challenge. The grant team and NOVA’s Fab Lab lead design challenges and digital fabrication summer camps to provide opportunities for educators and local students to engage in design thinking and digital fabrication activities.

As manufacturing transitions toward high-tech digitized production, engineering technology employers identify critical thinking, problem-solving and communication as increasingly important. In Northern Virginia, Micron Technology’s recent $3B plant expansion has increased local demand for workers with these skills. 

Makers By Design will strengthen engineering technology pathways by providing a design thinking fellowship for regional educators, running digital fabrication summer camps, and hosting design challenges. The project is aligned with NSF Includes, broadening participation in STEM through community outreach and engagement. Makers By Design seeks to create a community of practice among educators involved in community-based makerspaces at public libraries, private organizations, public school systems, colleges and universities.

Cohort 1 Outcomes: 

In 2022, NOVA recruited its first cohort of design thinking fellows. 16 educators completed the program, including 4 NOVA faculty members, 2 librarians, and 10 K-12 teachers from ACPS, APS, FCPS, LCPS, and PWCS. Thanks to generous support from Micron, NOVA was able to expand this initial cohort, increasing the reach and impact of the program. During the fellowship, educators worked in teams to develop their design thinking skills and practiced teaching at NOVA’s digital fabrication summer camps. Fellows then developed a lesson plan which integrated design thinking into their own teaching practice. NOVA will publish these lesson plans in Q2 2023. Read more about the inaugural design thinking fellowship.

Cohort 2 Planned Activities: 

NOVA has completed recruitment of the second cohort of design thinking fellows. 12 fellows will participate in 2023, including 4 NOVA faculty members, 1 librarian, and 7 K-12 teachers. Starting in March 2023, these fellows will come to NOVA to practice their design thinking skills. 

In 2022 NOVA ran two regional design challenges for K-12 and post-secondary students, one based on design thinking, another based on fabrication.

2022 Spring Design Thinking Challenge 
Students were challenged to design a product that would improve their school life.
Read more about the Spring challenge.

2022 Fall Digital Fabrication Challenge 
Students were challenged to fabricate a replica of their favorite science fiction prop.
Read more about the Fall challenge.

A total of 99 students participated across both challenges, representing NOVA and all school districts in NOVA’s service area. 

2023 Spring Design Thinking Challenge 
Students were challenged to design an Upcycled Product linked to their community.
Read more about the Fall Challenge

NOVA implemented 6 digital fabrication summer camps at NOVA campuses and at 3 regional chapters of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington. During camp mornings, students used 3D printing, laser cutting, and large-format printing to design their own board games. In the afternoons, students completed design thinking challenges led by design thinking fellows.

In total, 106 students (50 at NOVA campuses and 56 at Boys and Girls Club sessions) participated in camp activities. 

Summer 2023: NOVA’s fabrication camps will be held at the Fab Lab at the Manassas campus:

Session 1: June 26 – 30

Session 2: July 31 – Aug 4

Register for fabrication camps

MBD Grant Outcomes

MBD Grant Outcomes


NOVA presented the results of the Makers by Design project at the 2022 NSF ATE PI conference (read more). At a synergy session titled “Integrating Digital Fabrication and Design Thinking into Technician Education,” NOVA staff provided attendees with an overview of year 1 results and provided some insights into the issues we encountered while implementing the project.