Today’s program began with an introduction to Rhein-Waal University, which has three cornerstones in its mission: Innovative, Interdisciplinary, & International. The college has four interdisciplinary schools: Technology & Bionics, Life Sciences, Society & Economics, and Communication & Environment. 75% of the programs are in English, a feature so attractive that it, along with Germany’s free tuition, has caused the university to become a major hub for international education: 47% of the 7300 students are international students (from outside the EU). The most popular programs are International Business, International Relations, and Psychology.
One of the most exciting features of the university is its Fablab. After being trained, the FabLab is open to student use, and it is open to community use twice weekly, as well.
I had the opportunity to meet Maria, a current Rhein-Waal student.
Maria is an exchange student for only one semester, visiting from Spain, and her original plans were to go into interior design, possibly helping out her father in his remodeling business. After taking just one introductory course in the FabLab, Maria feels her life trajectory has been radically altered. Her teacher, Adriana Cabrera, taught her how to use each machine in the lab, introducing the students to the software and programming, as well as the technical aspects of design.
According to Maria, the key difference between the approach at Rhein-Waal and her home university is that here at Rhein-Waal in the FabLab, her instructor, Adriana, provides instruction and support with the goal of having students use the machines independently as often as possible, with the hardest part being “avoiding the queue for the laser cutter.” Maria compares this to the less inspiring learning environment of her home “uni” which had fewer machines and the students did not run them. At Rhein-Waal, Adriana teaches her students each of the machines with a different project, but in the end, the students can integrate many of the machines into their projects.
Maria says that she often finds herself thinking about this question, “How can I make this in a different or better way?” Now Maria is engaging in problem-solving and exploring possibilities for integrating FabLab skills into her future career in some form, such as producing her own design products for clients, rather than having them produced elsewhere. Maria sees the FabLab as being pivotal in opening her up to many possible avenues for her future career simply due to the practical, hands-on nature of the learning. View this video to see how the Fablab is working to improve life for those with disabilities through interdisciplinary projects that make use of something called soft robotics and biofabrication. Or, to find out more about the Fablab overall click here or here.