Allyson Lotz

Allyson Lotz

Project title: Non-Binary Perceptions and Attitudes Towards Mobile Makerspaces

Project description: This study will invite non-binary individuals to the makerspace to research what they think of makerspaces, how they interact with them, and what can be done to improve their impressions. In particular, this study asks if mobilizing a makerspace would improve that impression. Non-binary individuals will use the PancakeBot and PancakePainter to design and print their own pancakes, and they will complete surveys before and after the activity to gauge their thoughts. Collecting this data will aid in promoting diversity in makerspaces specifically and in computer science education in general by determining how we can better engage a greater variety of people.

Blog:

July 28

The program has ended. Posters have been presented, congratulations have been given, and I'm packing to leave at 8 AM tomorrow morning and make the trek by car to St. Louis. This summer has been a wonderful experience of ups and downs, and I think it gave me exactly the information I wanted out of my REU, so I have UNC Charlotte to thank for that.

The number one piece of advice I have for REU prospects is to stand up for themselves. This goes for the application process, in that you have to sell yourself so programs are interested in you, but you have to make the experience yours once you're in it, too. I came into my lab uncertain about and uninterested in what I was studying; not only did my topic grow on me, but I pushed to study my own spin on it that I thought was doable to pursue and of value to the field. Stand up for yourself when the going gets tough, too, because people and circumstances will try to take you down. This process will strengthen you as a person and ultimately better the field and society thanks to your work.
 
I wish everyone—peers, advisors, leaders—luck on their future endeavors. Thank you, and enjoy these findings on non-binary people's perceptions and attitudes towards mobile makerspaces.

July 21

I'd expected this week to be fairly laid back, since I thought I would only be doing recruitment work, which means sending emails all day and waiting for people to respond. It became clear fairly quickly, however, that recruitment was failing and I needed a new plan if I wanted to get any data for presentations next week.

As a result, these past few days I've been filing an amendment with the IRB to launch my study instead as a survey on Google Forms that's anonymous. I've also been rapidly emailing people, but instead begging organizations and individuals to take and share my survey rather than to come to the campus to make pancakes like I'd planned. I wish I had figured this out earlier in the week; I don't think many people are looking at their emails on a Friday in July.
 
All this time I'm also supposed to be working on my poster and abstract as well for next week, but it's very difficult when you don't have results. Nonetheless, I've made some progress, and I'm hopeful everything will fall into place when it's ready.
 
Since my whole week has involved sending emails, I've had some sitting time to be able to reflect on my time here, however. It ends in a week! It's hard to imagine. I have a lot coming up this weekend and next week, so this answer may change, but my favorite part of my trip to Charlotte has been going to Myrtle Beach (which isn't in Charlotte, but bear with me). I got to drive down there and back with some friends, eat good food, see the ocean for the first time, and overall not think about work for a whole day. It was wonderful.
 
By contrast, the hardest thing I've had to do is what I'm doing right now: desperately scrambling for results. Previously I had done neuroscience research, and when I hit a block in the road, it was a definitive block in the road; I was not getting around it and I had to write my paper acknowledging this block while making it pretty for publication. In this case, however, hope isn't all gone, and it's taking a lot of energy and aggression to push for data in hopes I can analyze it and produce a product by Tuesday. I'm preparing in the back of my head to do what I did in my neuroscience research and make my procedures look pretty without results, but I can't think about it too long while I'm pushing for results anyway. This makes it even harder to write my abstract and poster, both of which are coming up. It's mental mayhem.
 
As much as I've enjoyed this experience, it's time for it to end. The finish line is always the most stressful. The finish line is Wednesday, when posters are do. Thursday is cool down. Friday is the victory parade. Then I'm back in Missouri.

July 14

Again, this entire week I've been focusing on my application the IRB. There were some clarifications I had to make before resubmitting it, which were simple enough but time consuming. At one point I was worried one of the comments suggested I wasn't going to be able to get my application approved in time for me to do any research myself, which led to my adviser having a heated phone call with the admin reviewer of my application.

 
While I've been writing this blog, however, I've received approval to go forward with my study! I will be spending today contacting my assistants in recruiting to let them know the study has been given the thumbs up, and then I'll be sending out the recruitment email on Monday. This speedy approval is a huge relief and gives me hope that I will have research to present at the end of the program.
 
Outside of the lab I've been celebrating my twentieth birthday. Friends and family from outside of the program have been mailing me gifts and best wishes, and friends in the program have taken me out to brunch and played video games with me. I've really appreciated it, and it's been a lot of fun. I'm sad I'll have to leave these people in two weeks.

July 7

By far, this week has been the most satisfying of the program. This week the makerspace received a PancakeBot, the critical focal point of my study. Today we've been testing the machine by making pancakes of a variety of designs and using a variety of settings to see what works best. We've brought a lot of people to the makerspace who wouldn't visit otherwise by offering the free pancakes!

I also submitted my application to the IRB this week, which, although there are already technical hurdles in getting it certified, is super relieving to be able to say the materials themselves are completely compiled and ready for review. I now get to focus on more exciting procedures in the makerspace geared towards my study and towards my own interests if I find time.
 
We had a big holiday weekend, so some of us in the REU had some adventures. Last Saturday some of us took a day trip to Myrtle Beach, which gave me a gnarly sunburn, but it also gave me my first ever ocean experience, which I loved and I greatly look forward to repeating. I also got winded playing some ultimate frisbee on the Fourth of July, and we went downtown to see a half-hour long fireworks show with thousands of other people. It was wonderful.
 
It's hard to believe we've reached the final three weeks of the program. Time flies by, and I hope it flies by just slow enough to get research done and to savor these friendships.

June 30

This week has been very frustrating for me. Not only has my advisor been away at conference this week, but the Ph.D. student in my lab, Johanna, has also been on vacation, and this is the week I started work on writing an IRB application. As a result, I've been flying solo on the project and grasping at straws as to what I should be doing. Luckily I've managed to get some help the past couple days from research office staff, and I've been able to bounce ideas for some parts of the application off of makerspace staff. My goal is to have everything ready for review before I go to work Monday.

Today the REU director prompted this blog to address how mistakes contribute to my research, which would be a fine prompt if I had done any research this week. What I can attest to instead is the misfortune of timing. I believe this week would have been much less stressful if the foundation of my research support hadn't been abroad and out of contact all week, if I didn't have only a month to get a study planned, approved and ran, if I had been able to figure out what exactly I was doing earlier in the program, and, the icing on the cake, if I hadn't gotten chills, laryngitis, pink eye, and cramps all throughout the past two weeks. My energy has been stretched thin.
 
That being said, I think that's the nature of research. You get worn out, and you just have to keep chugging along. The main difference is that usually research has a slightly less strict timeframe to go with it, and it doesn't all always happen in the summer when people go on vacations.
 
Tomorrow, however, I'm taking a day trip to Myrtle Beach with some friends. It means a whole day away from work, which stresses me a little bit, but I think it's what I need. I think I need to get away, just for a little bit. Then I can pour my resources into Sunday, especially since my apartment will be empty for the second weekend in a row.
 
All stressors aside, I'm still very hopeful that this summer will conclude nicely at work. I'm even more hopeful my friendships will last beyond the summer.

June 23

This has been a busy week in the makerspace. Wednesday thru Friday we had five groups of high school students in a STEM summer camp visit the makerspace for two hours each to explore and discover the technology and possibilities. This was my first chance to write surveys and distribute them to the students to take after their experience. From this week I got some insight on the art of question writing and the meticulous revision process involved in creating effective surveys. My products and results were far from perfect, but the experience was nonetheless worthwhile.

 
Today I also had a meeting in which I sketched out what my actual research project looks like. The running plan, pending approval from my advisor and the Internal Review Board, is for me to create a 3D "printer" of pancake batter from materials provided by the makerspace and host an event with non-binary research subjects discussing how the machine works, allowing participants to make their own pancakes and eat them, and evaluate before and after the event how these people felt about makerspaces and their role in them. It's a very ambitious goal that handles both of my research projects at once, but it will be a blast if I can pull it off. (Also, free pancakes!!)
 
Besides these excitements, I've felt pretty terrible this week. I had a headache and feverish chills without the fever on Monday, the same symptoms subdued by ibuprofen on Tuesday, and laryngitis Wednesday thru Friday, though it's clearing up. Hopefully I'm feeling better by the time our REU outing on Monday happens.
 
My sense of direction and objective in this program grows with each week, even though everything is in constant flux, and with that growing sense of establishment comes greater excitement! I'm looking forward to putting my hands to building a 3D pancake printer on Monday.

June 16

This week led to yet another new understanding of what my research entails. As I now understand it, my main project is to develop an instrument to evaluate mobile makerspaces for their effectiveness in general and effectiveness at encouraging diverse groups to "make" in particular. I've found my biggest and most immediate struggles with this are (1) there's little research literature focused on the strength of evaluation instruments, so my reading will likely involve skimming through largely irrelevant papers and hoping they address their evaluation instruments somewhere in their discussion, and (2) we don't have a mobile makerspace yet for me to evaluate. As a result, I've spent most of my time this week thinking rather than actually doing anything, which, although it's essential, makes me feel very unproductive and worried about my sufficiency as a research intern.

 
Luckily, life outside of the lab has been less stressful. I went to back to back concerts earlier this week, both for pretty low prices, and had a blast at both, even though they involved a lot of standing around. Most of the REU also went to the U.S. National Whitewater Center last weekend and had dinner together afterwards, which were really fun ways to hang out and try new things. We're having a dinner party again tonight; I'm very excited to get to eat food and hang out with all these really cool people I don't get to see as often as I'd like.
 
Coming up next week: more fun times with REU friends, painting plans for the makerspace, a new model for gender identity visualization (!!!), and hopefully a more promising form or direction to my research!

June 9

Most of my lab work this week has still been preparatory. I've done more preliminary readings for my project, I've sketched out some ideas I want to realize in the makerspace (which I won't list here since they're surprises for my friends and family), and I've gotten a greater idea of what exactly I'm supposed to be doing this summer for my project. Currently my focus is determining what questions to ask on surveys both before and after an experience with a mobile makerspace. In a way, I'll get the chance to pilot this in a couple weeks when a group of 6-12th graders visits the makerspace.
 
I've also gotten the green light to ask my own subquestion of sorts to my project's bigger question regarding mobile makerspaces. Time and resources permitting, I will get to collect data on individuals of non-binary genders regarding their thoughts on makerspaces.
 
This week's been more exciting outside of the lab. I've had opportunities to explore the campus further, both on my own and with friends. That involved walking through the campus's botanical gardens (twice!), watching a movie on a lawn on campus, going to Smoothie King with my lab partners during the work day, partaking in a low ropes course with both the CS and chemistry REU's, and planning many more outings you'll likely hear about next week!
 
At this point my biggest concern is whether I will have enough material to make a worthwhile poster at the end of the summer. My hope is it's a concern I have now that drives me to do enough work to make everything okay by the time it's all over. I'm also hoping to hang out and grow closer with the others in this REU, even more so than we already are.
 
Also, I still haven't cooked. Two weeks down, seven to go.

June 2

Full disclosure: this first week is a bit of a drag. It's the week of logistics, of assignments, of certifications, of background readings, of all the preparations you can think of before, at long last, being set free to do whatever research you're doing. It'll wear you out, too, because you're doing all of this while rapidly socially integrating yourself with your new peers, adjusting to the eight hour workday, and figuring out what this "cooking your own food" concept is. But it's survivable.
 
I'm here on my first extended stay outside of my home state of Missouri, and I arrived on campus knowing nobody beyond some light Facebook investigating and a couple online greetings. Luckily, I was in good company, so it didn't take long for each of us to reach out and make new friends. Still, I hope I'll be able to find a little time this summer outside of the lab to hang out with everyone else in the program, even if that only means grabbing lunch.
 
I'd also never had to cook all of my meals for myself prior to leaving Missouri. I knew how to make my own lunch, and I could jumble together breakfast well enough. Dinner, on the other hand, is a greater struggle. Lately I've been interpreting dinner as "second lunch," but that probably means I'm not cooking as much as I should be. My running plan is to cook dinner sometime in the next week, and if that's as disastrous as I fear it could be, then I may resort to going vegetarian for dinner. (Can't burn a salad, right?)
 
Something I've already learned related to all of the above is that the summer is a MUCH better time to start a fitness goal than New Year's in the winter. I've managed to maintain a morning run routine this first week. Hopefully it'll combat my terrible diet habits, especially if this whole "cooking" thing doesn't work out.
 
Now onto what this whole program's about: the research! My project is to design activities and means by which to mobilize makerspaces, which is exactly what it sounds like. In particular I will probably be working with Charlotte's makerspace with respect to its 3D printers, digital embroidery machines, and the numerous little contraptions being unboxed in the makerspace as I write this. The current social goal in mobilizing makerspaces is to make them more accessible to and enjoyable for diverse groups of people who wouldn't visit one otherwise. There are already efforts going into targeting makerspaces towards women in community colleges, though personally I hope to focus on those in poor socioeconomic classes who may not be able to afford membership fees, college tuition, etc.
 
Needless to say, the first week is always a busy one, sometimes with ups and sometimes with downs. But now it's over and it's time to move on to the rest of the program.