When Ashley Dos Santos stopped at the makerspace at Murray Hall during a campus tour, she immediately knew she had found her place at Carolina.
“It blew my mind,” said Dos Santos, now a senior studying computer science and political science. “I was really into all the tools they had and that it was open to students of all majors. I knew I was going to get involved with this if I got into this school.”
And she has spent the past three years exploring all that the makerspaces offer.
BeAM — or Be A Maker — is a network of makerspaces where students, faculty and staff can use tools like embroidery machines, laser cutters and 3D printers to try their hand in the design and making of physical objects for education, research, entrepreneurship and recreation.
While the tools and all their possibilities initially drew Dos Santos in, it was another aspect of the makerspaces that kept her active in Carolina’s maker community.
Watching students from different majors and backgrounds, she quickly recognized that BeAM is open to everybody, regardless of ability. For Dos Santos, who has autism, that inclusive environment was a big draw.
“I know what it’s like to want to do something, to want to be included in a space, and have people in that space not be the most respectful or responsive or be the most welcoming to you,” she said.
With BeAM, that wasn’t the case.
“Everyone is always so nice. BeAM has that culture of inviting everyone, welcoming everyone regardless of ability or differences, and I knew I had to keep that going. I love it so much,” she said. “I decided I was going to be that person to invite everyone in because that’s what people were for me. By just being myself, people are learning and loving BeAM.”
As a sophomore, Dos Santos took a position as a program assistant at BeAM to build on its mission of helping all Tar Heels be makers — no matter their experience. By doing so, she has continued building the community that welcomed her in.
“It’s my job to provide top-notch customer service to our patrons and assist them in their work — and making sure everyone feels welcome is a major factor in that,” Dos Santos said. “I always help people with leading questions, so they can gain confidence in using our tools, and during my trainings, I always take the time to make sure that no one is left feeling insecure.”