Mina Schaafsma’s road to engineering was not always clear. She started at the University of South Carolina's Honors College in 2020 as a psychology major before deciding that biomedical engineering was her path. Schaafsma’s change of major also aligned with her interest in making clothes.
“I always love doing projects, and I think that's why I wanted to change to engineering because I wasn't getting that creative feeling,” Schaafsma says.
Schaafsma lived in South Quad and the Rhodos Fellows live and learn community. The Rhodos Fellows community is the information, design and computing hub on campus. It also has its own creative makerspace where students can create anything using tools such as laser cutters, sewing machines, soldering irons and film equipment.
In addition to her engineering aspirations, Schaafsma has had a life-long creative mindset. She asked for a sewing machine at age 12 and taught herself how to sew from online tutorials. With a passion for fashion, she decided to apply to work at the makerspace and became the textile director. Schaafsma advanced to her current position as makerspace staff manager.
“When I was in high school, I wanted to live at South Quad since I knew their makerspace had sewing machines," Schaafsma says. “I've always had a DIY-like attitude, and it made me want to work in the makerspace and learn all of the new tools because I enjoy making things myself.”
According to Schaafsma, it is a dream realized for her to utilize all of the makerspace equipment for creating clothes, jewelry and other items.
“Students who haven’t been exposed to engineering or 3D printing can come in and use the equipment. I wanted to help students learn more about engineering because I didn't have that opportunity in high school,” Schaafsma says. “We didn't have 3D printers, and I never took an engineering-related class, so it wasn’t until college when I learned more about engineering from the makerspace.”
Schaafsma’s creativity is not only reflected at the makerspace but also in her research project with Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Lang Yuan. She is currently working with 3D printing metals in lattice shapes with a goal of creating a more porous material that aims to be biocompatible, which is the ability of a material to perform with an appropriate host response in a specific application. Schaafsma has received numerous grants to support her research, including the NASA SC Space Grant, Magellan funding and the McNair Junior Fellows program. She is also a Carolina Scholar.
“Mina e-mailed me and said she wanted to know what we are doing. I showed her the things we were working on, and she told me about her background in biomedical engineering. Even though [biomedical engineering] doesn’t do too much with our traditional manufacturing, we can print biomaterials and then design unique structures," Yuan says.
Schaafsma currently plans on continuing to explore the boundaries of 3D-printed biocompatible metals and participate in the makerspace to work on her own projects. You may even see her around the Swearingen building and the USC campus sporting her own hand made clothing and jewelry.