Tong Jin Kim “It’s not much about creating a product. It’s about creating a community. And creating a community is much more challenging.”

A liberal arts professor empowers communities to create and design by teaching them how to use technology like laser cutters and 3-D printers.

“These are technology tools that allow people to create things, but they are not really being accessed and (aren’t) easy to use, like intuitive to use. So I want technology to be accessible. ...The whole paradigm of manufacturing is changing. You can actually manufacture things at home,” said Tong Jin Kim, an assistant professor of industrial design.

“One of the things I emphasize to our students is (that) to become a design leader, you have to influence people to create things rather than you (creating) things,” said Kim. He said this is what led him to teaching others about 3-D printing and that his project is about students creating things with this tool.

Kim said he spends his research doing three things: building things in 3-D printers to use as examples in his class, connecting with communities and teaching 3-D classes to communities.

Kim taught one series of workshops in an underprivileged neighborhood in Chicago. He believes his classes allow people to express their creativity in other ways. Some of his students even started a Kickstarter campaign so they could further develop and sell their printed products. Zhiyan (Emma) Wang, a senior in industrial design, was among a group of Purdue students who traveled to Chicago to help Kim prepare for the workshop.

“This idea is to give back to society. We help all these peoples to use 3-D print skills to restart their lives,” said Wang. “I never really thought about how to use a technology that’s really advanced technology (to) help these people.”

Wang said that Kim is a very calm person who is not easily excited. “I do think, since he (started) doing this, he’s never thought about getting money from the project, so I think he must be really passionate about it. Otherwise, nothing is going to drive him to do certain non-profit projects.”

Kim has taught 3-D printing classes in Chicago for four months. At the moment, he is working on the design of Ruckus, a building in Indianapolis that will serve as a makerspace. The website describes it as, “a place where inventors, designers, artisans, photographers, craftspeople and engineers can share equipment, technology and ideas to help launch their next creation.” Kim is specifically working on a lab that will house 3-D printers and laser cutters, among other things.

Kim is still interested in teaching 3-D printing to the underprivileged, however. This summer, he has plans to lead a trip to Korea, where he will lead classes teaching orphans 3-D printing. According to Kim, printers will be donated to the orphanage.

“It’s not much about creating a product,” Kim said. “It’s about creating a community, and creating a community is much more challenging.”

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