‘A big world outside’: UC Berkeley Library fellows create new class to share technologies, skills with peers

Students working on laptop
Tiffany Chiang, left, helps student Lauren Irie with a 3-D model during the “Intro to Making” DeCal on March 11, 2019. (Photos by Jami Smith for the UC Berkeley Library)

For Matthew Sherburne, the faculty adviser to a pair of students leading a new course on campus, the job is pretty simple: sit back, relax, and try to avoid whiplash.

“The students are amazing, so for the most part I stay the hell out of their way and let them do great things,” Sherburne said. “That’s what I do.”

The students he mentors are part of the Library’s undergraduate fellowship program, an innovative experiment launched last year to nurture and leverage the diverse skills of Berkeley students. Now, the fellows have united those skills under one syllabus — a technical and artistic buffet bonanza.

Alicia Audong
Alicia Auduong

The student-led course, or DeCal, is called “Intro to Making” and covers a wide range of mediums, from data visualization and 3-D printing to video editing and graphic design. The goal, says Alicia Auduong ’19, who leads the DeCal with Austin Wangyu ’21, is to introduce students to the ever-growing landscape of making — and, within that, forms they can latch on to and make their own.

“If you expose students to eight or 10 different things during a semester, and if one of them resonates, you’ve done a great thing,” Sherburne said.

“Pick your niche; decide what you want to do,” Auduong said. “Go a million miles deep and realize there’s still a big world outside.

“I hope students realize nothing’s standing in their way.”

Auduong, who is president of Moffitt Library’s b.makerspace and a makerspace fellow in the Library’s fellowship program, was first inspired to build the DeCal last spring, at the end of a showcase where all of the fellows gave presentations on their research projects. After realizing how interconnected the fellows’ fields were — how the digital humanities overlap with data analysis and 3-D modeling, for example — she suggested to her peers and librarians that they form a class weaving them together.

“Everybody is doing a million different things — you’re not going to find a single person on campus who doesn’t want to try something new,” Auduong said. “We’ve pivoted so hard into this new interconnected wave that it doesn’t make sense to keep putting us in silos.”

With the green light from the Library, Auduong and Wangyu began hammering out the syllabus last fall, imagining complementary topics and recruiting other students to teach sections on their specialties.

Jean Ferguson
Jean Ferguson

“I think she went in a closet for a weekend and wrote everything down and created the syllabus,” said Jean Ferguson, former learning and research communities librarian, who just moved to Smith College, in Massachusetts. “The students picked all the areas — we had very, very little input on how this all came together.”

“I just kind of nod my head and go, ‘OK!’” said Sherburne. (Sherburne, a lecturer in the materials science and engineering department, helped inaugurate the Library’s makerspace, securing a suite of 3-D printers through the Student Technology Fund. Auduong called Sherburne “our No. 1 supporter from day one.”)

The fellows kicked off the DeCal with a course on the principles of design, taught by art history major and library research fellow Melissa Foote ’19. During the class, Foote went over how to apply design guidelines, such as color schemes and the rule of thirds, to the various projects students have in the class, from map building to logo design.

“The world around us is design — whether you’re making a flyer for a show, or taking a photo to post on Instagram,” Foote said. “It’s important that you have this visual literacy so you can create things that are more engaging, or stronger, and understand the way things are working.”

“Having this DeCal be something where students can put theory into practice, that’s very valuable,” Foote added.

Students on laptopsStudent asks a questionStudent holds 3D printed object
Top to bottom: Clockwise from left: Fellows work on a 3-D-printed octopus project in class; Sravya Basvapatri asks a question; students inspect a 3-D-printed object.

Later in the semester, students learned how to 3-D model — and 3-D print — an octopus, visualizing its serpentine tentacles from all sides. A guest lecturer from the student club 3DMC taught students the rules governing the universe of 3-D printing, from the physics of arch support to the expansion of plastic.

Sravya Basvapatri ’22, a freshman studying business administration and engineering, joined the DeCal to have a creative outlet. She was particularly excited about learning how to 3-D print, and peppered the instructors with questions throughout the class.

“The coolest part of this DeCal is that these are other students doing this,” Basvapatri said. “It seems so much more accessible when you hear them saying, ‘We do this all the time; come join us.’

“You think, this is what I could be doing next year — or next semester.”

In fact, that peer-to-peer mentorship is exactly what the Library’s undergraduate fellowship is founded upon, librarians say. Experimental programs such as the fellowship and this DeCal are setting the stage for a new model of learning on campus: side-by-side, rather than top-down. And it is that model of support that the Library hopes to replicate in the Center for Connected Learning, the new vision for Moffitt.

“It feels more comfortable to be vulnerable with other students,” Ferguson said. “It doesn’t matter what high school you went to, or what community college you transferred from — you can start here, and discover new ways of learning, or creating.”