Rebecca Caraway | Mustang News Credit: Rebecca Caraway | Mustang News

On the second floor of the Bonderson Project Center is the Innovation Sandbox club. When the club’s president, Toby Darci-Maher, was a Cal Poly freshman, the small space was filled with students creating, getting assistance on projects and exploring the creative side of engineering.  

The once 40 person club is now run by five students. Fewer volunteers means less hours students can work on wood engraving, vinyl cutting and 3D printing in the space and the once exciting social aspect of the club has been lost. 

Darci-Maher, a mechanical engineering junior, has seen the club change a lot since their freshman year. Before the pandemic, the innovation center was open five days a week from 11 a.m-6 p.m. This quarter the center is open six and a half hours a week. With less availability, fewer students are finding the club and working on their projects. 

“When it’s so small like that you get less people wandering in cause we’re not open as much,” Darci-Maher said. 

The Innovation SandBox is a student-led organization that houses tools for students to use and acts as a free 3D printing service. As well as 3D printers the club has vinyl cutters, CNC routing and laser cutting. The club receives its funding from the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. 

3D printed figurines that were made in the Innovation Sandbox. Rebecca Caraway | Mustang News

“People are free to come in when we’re open and talk to us and work through projects with us,” Darci-Maher said. “People also can sign up to get trained on certain tools so they can use them on their own time. 

Darci-Maher has been involved with the club since the beginning of their freshman year after a high school friend told them about the club. This year Darci-Maher is the club president. 

Due to having a smaller team, the club isn’t able to host as many events as they did before. In years past the club would go on field trips to San Francisco and visit museums. Darci-Maher said that the problem is not just the size of the club, but also that many spaces still have restrictions that would prevent such an event.

 “The field trips are definitely a cool thing to get people involved and to get people excited but it’s hard to do that when everything is a little bit more closed down,” they said.

Not being on campus hasn’t only affected the size of the club but also itsRebecca equipment. 

“We’ve been having some issues with the equipment just because it sat for so long,” Kristin Deming, a food science senior, said. “Nobody did the maintenance because we were all quarantining. It’s been kind of rocky getting back up but hopefully we’ll get over it.”

Deming is the director of 3D for the club and has been involved since her freshman year. Like Darci-Maher, Deming heard about the club from a friend and decided to try it out once she got to Cal Poly. 

Deming shared how last year the space was primarily used for students to get something printed for a class and only one person could be in the space at a time. This meant that while the club was still able to offer services, it lost a lot of the social aspects. 

“I was in here over the summer trying to do the maintenance on the printers, but it mostly has been pretty slow,” Deming said. “It’s done a lot of sitting empty.”

The Innovation Sandbox club isn’t the only club that’s had issues since coming back to campus. In fact, according to the campus club coordinator, Sarah Hawkins, many clubs didn’t come back at all. 

Hawkins has been the club coordinator for three years and is primarily in charge of advising the 29 competitive sports clubs and supports the assistant director in overseeing all of the clubs on campus. 

“The biggest thing we saw was clubs kind of fizzle out during the pandemic especially when we were still primarily virtual,” Hawkins said. “We lost a lot of organizations that had been active for a really long time.” 

Like the innovation club, many clubs that did survive the virtual school year are now struggling to pick things back up, according to Hawkins. Hawkins shared that they’ve noticed a lag in new club memberships and not as many events as in years past.

Unlike many clubs, the Innovation SandBox club has survived and is open to new members or anyone who wanders in.

“You don’t need to know anything at all about engineering to make stuff in the sandbox,” Darci-Maher said. “The sandbox is a really great place for people that want to do a project or are kind of interested in learning a little bit but don’t want to fully commit to doing this full thing that can be a little bit scary.” 

The Innovation SandBox club is open Mondays from 2-4 p.m., Tuesdays 1-3 p.m. and Thursdays 2-3:30 p.m. in room 205 in the Bonderson Project Center.

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