Uzoma Nwakuche is a senior studying Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UC Berkeley. When he was younger, Nwakuche attended UC Berkeley summer camps and was introduced to the CITRIS Invention Lab on Cal Day, Berkeley’s annual open house event, where he had the opportunity to talk to Invention Lab Senior Manager Chris Myers. Nwakuche relates what he first saw in the Invention Lab, an experience that led to an internship as a high school student and motivated him to apply to UC Berkeley.
The first thing I saw when I walked in was a bunch of 3D printers, a laser cutter, and tools and circuits. I thought it was really interesting and cool. At the time, I was interested in robotics. A maker space was a new concept to me. I’d heard of them, but never visited one.
I got a more personal feel for UC Berkeley when I served an internship in the lab where undergrads and grads were doing research and building projects. Seeing it from the inside is one of the big reasons I chose to go to UC Berkeley.
The interesting thing I found about [Lab Manager] Chris [Myers] is that he has a background in toy design, and I started seeing things from that perspective. Under him I learned to ask “how do I make this? how do I design this to be efficient and productive to the user? how can I print and deliver the product?”
One of my favorite projects was building a magnetic wall-crawling robot from scratch — basically a robot with an Arduino microprocessor control and all the functions of a robot. The body was designed using CAD modeling software, and we used a laser cutter to cut it out of acrylic. It had magnets to pull the robot to a whiteboard, but the wheels acted as a buffer, so the magnets were actually floating parallel to the whiteboard, and the robot could go up and down. It was remote-controlled with a hole in the middle for a marker, so you can have it draw whatever shape you wanted. Products like this were built just to showcase and didn’t have any particular purpose, but it was cool that I could use to learn how to program an Arduino and work with a laser cutter.
I learned the responsibilities of working on a team, designing and executing a project from start to finish. This experience helped me secure opportunities outside of the maker space field, such as my first software engineering internship. One of the things I talked about when interviewing was my time at the CITRIS Invention Lab and the products I worked on. My experience transferred very well.
I would say that the biggest takeaway is to always be curious and step out of your comfort zone to learn something. The best thing about the Invention Lab is that it’s not restricted to a particular major. Any Berkeley student can sign up for a maker pass and get full access to the Lab, including 3D printing and laser cutting. It’s so interdisciplinary and inspires people to make whatever they want. It has inspired a creative and passionate side of me to make and build, tinker and explore.
I also gained skills in working on a team composed of diverse opinions, people, skill sets and mindsets. I worked with art majors and architecture majors, and an English major was a Superuser during my time there. There are so many different people from so many different backgrounds, but they’re all driven by the same sense of passion and creativity — that environment, to me, is just amazing. I think that’s what makes the Invention Lab a special place.
The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty researchers and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners.
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