The recent Maker and Education Community panel, presented by Atmel, made it clear that the maker movement is changing the engineering industry. Moderated by Windell Oskay, Co-founder of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, panelists included: Massimo Banzi (Co-founder of the Arduino project), Reza Kazerounian (Microcontroller SVP at Atmel), Suzanne Deffree (Executive Editor at UBM Tech’s EDN), Brian Jepson (Editor at Maker Media), Annmarie Thomas (Engineering Professor at the University of St. Thomas), Bob Martin (member of Atmel’s microcontroller team), and Quin Etnyre (the 12-year-old CEO of Qtechknow).

When asked why educators should keep a close eye on the maker movement, the panelists agreed that it brings a sense of hands-on practicality to engineering that traditional education has not. Deffree mentioned, “Makers are generous with their time and skills and are willing to share them”–a quality that a lot of schools and professors are incapable of providing. Later, Oskay asked why schools should invest in engineering education when they are struggling as a whole. Banzi then reiterated the benefits of the maker movement, saying that makers keep costs down. Thomas took it one step farther by emphasizing that the maker movement is about actual making—not necessarily the tools that are involved—and that it celebrates curiosity and inventiveness.

Etnyre, who at 12 is already CEO of a company that sells open-source electronics kits and teaches Arduino classes, talked about how the movement has had a direct effect on the engineering industry in the last five years alone: “With crowdfunding, smaller projects have the potential to become bigger open-sourced projects.” Martin agreed with this statement that Martin. Thomas mentioned that the maker community has always been strong, and ways of communicating via open-source forums and social media is only serving to strengthen that bond. Open sourcing puts everything out in the open for people to do whatever they can imagine—taking embedded parts and making them as simple as a nail or a screw, as Martin put it.

The existence of makers since cavemen and the wheel prompted the question of how designing and manufacturing can be made “cool” again. Deffree said that society’s definition of what is cool needed to be changed, and kids need to be taught that Paris Hilton types are not cool. Then Oskay asked the panel, “How do you convince a kid to spend money on an electronics kit as opposed to a video game?” Everyone looked to Etnyre for a response. Without missing a beat, he simply replied, “Just tell them they can make the video game they want to play with Arduino.”