The Idea Realization Lab

2019-2020 Annual Report

The Idea Realization Labs are DePaul’s student-led makerspaces created to initiate collaboration and creativity through hands-on learning. Our nickname “The IRL” is also known to stand for “In Real Life,” which represents our desire to teach and connect to physical processes. Our equipment and materials provide resources for our patrons to explore new skills, expand their knowledge, and supplement university education. We strive to build community and offer alternate methods of learning as we encourage students of all majors to build, problem-solve, and work together.


As the IRL progresses, we see many wonderful effects on the DePaul community. Confidence, understanding, innovation, and a love for learning are just a few. We put in the effort to teach our visitors and learn from them in return. We hope our guests carry the spirit of the Idea Realization Labs with them to manifest the values in whatever futures they find themselves in.

Letter from the Director

The IRL community has always been a place where we instigate transformative work. We do this through engagement with the world around us – with objects, tools, and yes, with people. We make our ideas – from the everyday ones to the transformative ones – into real things.


Making is how we create change.


As we close our academic year, we do so with change in mind. Change is all around us, and with it, an uncertain future. But change also presents us with opportunity. Opportunity to help each other, to positively influence our environment, and to help make a better future. As agents of change, it’s our duty to stand up and participate in that process. To make things better.


I continue to be proud of the community that we’ve built together, and its continued ability to take action and act when action is so desperately needed. It’s no mistake that the same students who have made our space successful are the ones who continue to step forward in challenging times. From developing workshops that keep people tinkering while at home to developing much needed personal protective equipment for front line workers, this community has a lot to be proud of.


This is who we are. This is what we do.


I look forward to continuing our service to the DePaul community next year, and to continuing the growth of our ever-expanding community of risk-takers, doers, and makers of things.


Jay Margalus

Faculty Director of Maker Innovation


IRL’s 2019-2020 Team


Haley Sullivan

IRL2 Manager

Thomas Newsome

IRL Manager

Michael Koenig

IRL2 Manager

Rachel Black

IRL Specialist
(New IRL Manager)

Claire Rosas

IRL2 Specialist

Jake Juracka

IRL Specialist

Riley O’Brien

IRL2 Moderator

Jacob Bender

IRL2 Moderator

Tikal Rivera

IRL Moderator

Meg Moore

IRL2 Moderator

Angel Navarro

IRL Moderator

Andres Lagunas

IRL Moderator

Gabriel Rickabaugh

IRL Moderator

Teagan Capek

IRL Moderator

Maddie Fernandez

IRL2 Moderator

Noelle Green

IRL2 Moderator

Remy Doornebos

IRL2 Moderator

Declan Kavanaugh

IRL2 Moderator

Tyler Bogartz Brown

IRL2 Moderator

Alex Waskelo

IRL2 Moderator

Jay Margalus

IRL Director

Terry Steinbach

IRL Advisor

Ben Kumming

IRL Operations Manager

Devin Bell

IRL Animation Stage Coordinator

Annual Stats


User Check-ins


Events Hosted


% Increase in IRL2 Coat Hooks


Unique Users


Chuck-E-Cheese References


Kirby's 3D Printed


Total PPE Delivered

Pandemic Response:

The Illinois PPE Network

The production and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is not a brand-new concept. In recent months, however, the global outbreak of COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented increase in the widespread demand for PPE. We now understand that PPE is crucial to slowing the spread of COVID-19, but it is harder than ever to find, especially for people in under-resourced communities. Without PPE, people find themselves at a greater risk of contracting the disease or infecting others. Health care personnel and other essential workers are especially at risk.


Here at the IRL, we know that we are more than the resources and space we provide to DePaul patrons. We are a community. During the early stages of the outbreak, we knew our community would be in for a long battle against COVID-19. We quickly mobilized our resources and workers, doing everything we could to fabricate and distribute PPE through the newly-formed Illinois PPE Network (IPPEN). We have created everything from face shields and fabric masks, to fabric jigs and clothing buttons, and we continue to carry on these efforts. 


So far, we have been fortunate to receive over $100,000 through our crowdfunding campaign. These collected donations and grants have been used to create PPE for every Illioisan that requests some form of aid from our network. By mid-May, it is projected that we will make 100,000 faceshields. We do not exclude who gets our PPE – everyone from healthcare workers to regular people like you and me have been, and continue to be, served. 


As the academic year comes to a close, we know our work to serve our growing community does not. We have provided several organizations, workers, and people with PPE to contain the spread of COVID-19, but there is still work that must be done. 

PPE Nodes

  • Bucktown
  • Chicago Peace Fellows South Node
  • Chicago Peace Fellows Southshore
  • Chicago Peace Fellows Bronzeville
  • Chicago Peace Fellows Humboldt Park
  • Evanston
  • GetMePPE Chicago
  • Harper College
  • Jefferson Park Hub
  • Lake View Node
  • Lincoln Park
  • Logan Square 
  • Loop Hub
  • MSI Chicago 811 Uptown Fab Lab
  • Oak Park Node
  • Peoria Node
  • Roscoe Village
  • South Suburban Network
  • Swedish Hub
  • West Suburbs Node

Resources Procured

5,760 Rubber Bands


3,500 yards of Elastic


1,440 yards of Painter’s Tape


800 Buttons


382.8 lbs of PLA Filament



Chicago Council on Science and Technology





Special Thanks

Julian Grace Foundation


Triangle Die and Supply


Northwestern University


Chicago Public Schools

The Museum of Science and Industry


The Chicago Fellows Peace


Nation of Makers


And the multitude of other makerspaces, libraries, and other schools who we greatly appreciate.

Messages from PPE Recipients

Event and Project Highlights

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Digital Youth Divas Field Trip

In January, we hosted the Digital Youth Divas for a field trip exploring different machines and tech in the lab! The event was organized and directed by Shai Moore from Northwestern.

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Emergo Portfolio Workshop

This year, we've been developing a relationship with Emergo, a UL company that focuses on global medical device consulting. Their multidisciplinary staff led a portfolio review workshop for any school of design student to participate in. As DePaul's new Industrial Design program begins, more work is expected to continue with their team!

Magic Wheelchair
Magic Wheelchair Project

A team of students, staff, faculty and alumni collaborated on designing and assembling a costum for JoJo, a talented boy with Alsip so he could have an extraordinary halloween. The costume was built entirely from scratch! Read more about the Magic Wheelchair Project here.

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Project Bluelight:

A Christmas Stop Motion Story

It’s no secret that animators are a creative bunch. Hidden in the annexes of the animation labs of CDM and the Daley building, animators spend their days working on solo films and shorts. 


That is, until Project Bluelight rolls around. Project Bluelight is the quarter-long opportunity for students to participate in a professional project led by professors. It builds community, fosters creativity, and gives students the experience of working in a tight-knit group as they would in the future. The IRL has seen and supported previous Project Bluelights in its space, with Merry Christmas, Depaul! being its most recent addition.


Merry Christmas, Depaul! is a beautifully animated showcase of the various little oddities and joys of the holiday season, seen through the small moments of several animated characters. Led by animation professors and filmmaking veterans Meghann Artes and Devin Bell, Merry Christmas was made by a team of thirty students over the course of twenty weeks. 


The IRL’s materials and space proved essential for the crew of students. It saw them creating props, sets, and animated tests through its lengthy production time. The unity, togetherness, and creativity fostered by students in the lab brought another welcoming sense of community to the space. 


Student Ariel Reynoso said of her experience in the lab that “I was in the IRL so much it felt like a second home! I worked on a scene that had been planted in one of the IRL animation rooms and it became natural to walk in and work for a few hours at a time. I had only been in the IRL once or twice prior to this project, so I was nervous to walk in and use materials, but the staff was always helpful whenever I had questions or needed assistance.” Student Celina Garduno says “I worked in the IRL a lot for Bluelight. In the IRL I helped Kendrick cut wood for the dancer’s background. We also painted and decorated trees there. Once the trees were set up as well, we did test shots!”


At its core, the Christmas Bluelight exists as an example of the unity and creative dedication of animators at Depaul. The Christmas Bluelight came to a fantastic conclusion with a window display right outside of the Daley building. We are proud to continue offering a space to students at Depaul to motivate making and support our creative community!

The IRL Quarterly Challenge

The IRL Quarterly Challenges are a new initiative to get users motivated in making by offering a prize to users who create something in the lab connected to a quarterly theme. Each quarter, a new theme and related prize is chosen. The themes are broad to allow any user to participate, but provide enough info to get ideas flowing. Here are this year’s challenges and winners!


Fall Quarter: Recycled, partnered with the Chicago Rebuilding Exchange

Our world is full of materials that can be reused, repurposed, and upcycled. Create something using the lab and fitting the theme of Recycled for a chance to win!


      • Winner: Trevor Slavin: Trevor’s Find-It Game. Trevor collected, sanitized and chopped multi-colored plastic straws from DePaul’s waste bins and turned them into filler material for a “Find-it” game. In a jar, several toys are hidden amongst the chopped plastic. Can you find them all?


Winter Quarter: Wearable, prizes from Buffalo Exchange

What we wear both expresses our personality and presents it to others. Craft something in the lab that is wearable and defines you!


      • Winner: Wren Lively: Wren thrifted and modified an entire outfit utilizing the sewing area of the lab after being inspired by a line of Barbie clothing from Forever 21. This included tailoring pants, cropped and embroidering a t-shirt, and crafting matching earrings on the laser cutter.

Adapting to Remote Work

Over the last few months, we have watched as businesses quickly shifted from in-person workspaces to online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The IRL was no different. We felt as though we had a responsibility to continue to serve our DePaul community with hands-on projects and virtual activities. Our goal as a team was to create and share resources to keep patrons active during this time of emotional stress and to give them a sense of personal control, which can easily be lost in times like these. 


Upon moving to an online makerspace, we quickly shifted our in-person workshops to at-home kits and livestreams. Our staff helped to create online consulting hours, continued to give people helpful blog posts, and engaged with our community of makers through social media.


Since going online, our lab has written over 50 blog posts with posts ranging from “DIY Flowers” and “How to Budget,” to “What Our Staff Misses Most About the Lab.” We posted a new blog post every weekday so that users would always have content readily available. For our DIYers, we had topics that included at-home projects such as eggshell chalk and barbell weights; calls-to-action through our Illinois PPE Network; and cooking that included bread starters, cookies in a mug, and herby mushrooms over rice. We also had posts about crafts, events, innovation, latest news, resources, self help, sewing, sustainability, technology, videos, and ways to save. 


We also did livestreams every Friday for those who preferred to watch and do instead of read. Our livestreams included pickling vegetables, seed transplanting, seed germination, chair refurbishing, alcohol ink, a Fusion 360 tutorial, and clothing repair. On average, these videos have had 267 views, with our most-viewed live stream being our Pickling Vegetables Workshop with 579 views. 


When moving online, we found that mailing kits to patrons was the best way to bring the physicality of the lab to students’ homes. Our kits were packaged by staff, then sent out to students for them to do themselves. On average, each workshop sent out 13 kits with the most popular kit being the Alcohol Ink workshop with 19 kits. The kits we offered are: Beading, Pickling, Knitting & Crocheting, Basic Electronics, Alcohol Ink, Clothing Repair, and PPE Mask Headbands.

In order to supplement the resources that our staff have been able to provide in person, we created online consulting hours. Students were able to view each of the staff members’ areas of expertise, then email us about anything that they needed: from support on a project to suggestions. They would email us their availability, what staff member they think would best suit their needs, how long they would like to meet for, and finally, their question. Staff would then schedule an online conference with the student to help them in whatever way they can. 

Despite the hardships the Idea Realization Lab has faced with transferring online, we are committed to serving our community through giving our makers access to a plethora of resources both virtually and delivered to their hands. 

IRL2: Building a New Community with Haley Sullivan

1. What was your role in the development, opening and operation of the Idea Realization Lab 2?


I was the first Lab Manager for IRL2 and helped get everything ready for opening. That work started in early summer of 2019 as we existing staff developed new training documentation, sharpened our leadership skills, and hired ten new staff to accommodate the expansion. Later in August, I moved over to IRL2 full time with lab specialist Claire Rosas. Together, we accepted packages, organized and tagged equipment, and built up the space to what you see today! 


Once the lab was open, my responsibilities included ongoing training of staff throughout the year as we got new machines, as well as leading efforts to create and improve on our workshop offerings. I also spearheaded our Week of Making events, sparked our Quarterly Challenge initiative, and helped push our social media and engagement as we joined a new campus community in Lincoln Park. 


2. What did you see as some of the biggest hurdles for getting the lab up and running?


I think undergoing such a big growth as an organization and a community of makers was definitely nerve-wracking. Would people like the new space and start visiting? Would we find our place on campus as we had in the Loop? Would we be able to maintain our strong collaborative mindset and learn from each other with miles separating our team across the two campuses? 


We also had difficulties with transporting items into the labs due to the SAC lacking a freight elevator, and Claire and I had to chase more than one truck down Kenmore ave! However, we quickly befriended Cary from Print & Mailing and Danny from FO, who helped us navigate those challenges and settle into our new space.

3. How did the new group of users (lincoln park) impact the ways in which the lab is used?


In the Loop, our demographics are overwhelmingly CDM majors – film, animation, graphic design, computer science – and as an animation major myself it was easy to connect with the interests of those who gravitated towards the IRL. In Lincoln Park, the demographics shifted widely, and there was some concern about how we could best fit the needs of education majors, english and philosophy students, and meld into the slightly different culture that LPC had offer.


I think that our fears quickly lifted once we started welcoming visitors into the space, though. The day a mathematics professor came into the lab asking if he could 3D print models of his formulas was a sign to me that yes, we definitely had a place here! From eager freshmen who would visit the labs nearly every day after classes, to physics students blowing us out of the water with their electronics skills, to cosplayers hurriedly crafting new outfits before the next convention, we found a very similar community began to form. I still think there is untapped potential in Lincoln Park, and that many students don’t know about the lab or are uncertain if they belong, but the beauty of our mission is that you don’t need anything but enthusiasm to start creating with us! 


4. If someone were to be in your same shoes, but opening a third lab, what advice would you give them?


There will always be stresses, headaches, exhausting days and struggles when you’re trying to build something new and draw people to what you’re making, especially when what you do lives and dies by its community. You will make mistakes, you will wish you’d done things differently, but you will learn from those mishaps and keep moving forwards as a team. Focus on your mission, what drives you and what’s truly important!


Alternatively, drink lots of coffee and befriend the people around you in the building as quickly as possible. You never know what kindhearted and friendly characters are right around the corner!

5. Do you have any favorite memories of your time at IRL2?


1. Sharing lunches at a precariously small glass table at Whole Foods each day with Claire while waiting for furniture to arrive. Same table, every day.

2. Fire extinguisher training in the welcome center parking lot with our whole team for the first time

3. Realizing that our top monthly visitors were freshmen, and knowing that we’d have a bright future in LPC

4. getting to teach skills to my student staff and watching them get stronger, seeing their abilities and confidence grow with each workshop they taught

5. The day the fridge arrived


6. If you could see 5 years into the future, how do you think the labs might change?


I’d like to see the IRLs integrated more deeply into the DePaul student experience so that more people could take advantage of the labs and their resources. Understanding the power of building things with your own hands, and the learning experience that comes from overcoming the inherent challenges within is so incredibly valuable. At least, there’s plenty of opportunity for more classes to take advantage of the space in unexpected ways!


As the labs grow on both campuses I expect them to change and develop with their communities; maybe they’d be unrecognizable in five years, in the best ways possible. The labs are heavily shaped by their staff and visitors, so as we gain new people they will form the labs into what is best for their needs and desires. Hard to say!


7. Any comments for the future staff and IRL community?


Part of what made working at the labs so special was their boundless ability to grow and transform. If I wanted to learn a skill and teach a workshop on it, I would just do it. If I was interested in web development and social media, I could go and overhaul those things and improve them. It’s critical to continue striving to be better and learn something new each time you enter the lab, because those are the things that really make a lasting impact on you. Never forget that, never grow complacent with your skills and abilities, and use your vision to drive your world forwards. 

“Because of this access to sewing machines, it reignited my love for sewing!” – Wren

 “I was working on a wearable AR device for DJing stuff. Specifically, IRL2 was helpful for this because it gave me easy access to soldering stations + wires, 3D printers, and other various materials to bring the project together.” – Graham

From Our Users:

“…having a space where I can just work with my music playing has provided a sanctuary I did not realize I needed.”  – Kat

“A valuable resource for a person working on a dream.” – Jose

 “The IRL community is so friendly and welcoming! I’ve also met a lot of people within my major and made connections with other CDM students through the IRL.” – Ty

I use the IRL to create and to be with friends! I also use it as a space to have downtime or do homework.” – Shelly


Our labs strive to effectively use our funds to meet the needs of our visitors, enforce safety, and grow our community. Investing in equipment and software that encourages creativity pays off in student interest and foot traffic.

The IRL’s Fixed Assets have grown after opening our second space in Lincoln Park Campus. Between our two spaces, we possess these resources:


Form2 Printer • Band Saw (3)Animation Studio (2)

Form3 PrinterJigsaw (2)Laser Cutter (4)

Prusa MK2 Printer (4) •  Reciprocating Saw   •  Sewing Machine (7)

Prusa MK3 Printer (2) • Scroll Saw (2)Screen Press  

Raise 3D Printer • Chop Saw6 Color T Shirt Press

LulzBot (3) • CNC Router (5) • Rework Station (2)

Dremel Printers (8) • Drill Press (2)

PCB Mill

Miter Saw

Table Saw (2)

Circular Saw