Skip to main

‘Behind the Screens: The People of OIT’ is a series that features the people working hard behind the scenes to make OIT run.

Position: Co-Lab Studio Technician

Time spent with OIT: Three years

The Innovation Co-Lab, located in the Technology Engagement Center (TEC) on West Campus, is one of three Co-Lab locations across campus. It’s a space brimming with 3D printers, waterjets, Alienware workstations, a ShopBot CNC router, and much more.

When you pass through the garage door and enter the flagship makerspace, you will be greeted by Kevin Thies. Kevin is an all-around craftsman who works hard to share his knowledge with others and make sure that all members of the Duke community feel welcome to channel their creative side in the Co-Lab.

Kevin Thies sits at his workspace in the TEC Studio makerspace

What he does for OIT:
As a studio technician, Kevin keeps busy by repairing and maintaining machines in the Co-Lab, answering users’ questions and offering advice, giving tours of the space, teaching Roots workshops, and completing other miscellaneous tasks that keep the Co-Lab running.

Although there are plenty of interesting Roots workshops to choose from, one of Kevin’s favorites is making stained glass using the waterjet. This class involves assembling precut stained glass with foil, flux, and solder and soldering the pieces together.

“People have the chance to be creative with the pieces we provide them, so it’s a fun one,” Kevin said. “They just don’t know the variety of things they’re able to make at the Co-Lab, but the stained glass class helps broaden their horizons.”

Advice for those new to OIT:
Kevin’s big piece of advice for those newer to OIT, and even those who aren’t so new, is to remember that the Co-Lab’s Roots workshops are for everyone at Duke, and the Co-Lab staff love seeing their OIT friends.

While there is often the misconception that the Co-Lab is only for undergraduate students, this is far from the case. Along with undergraduates, many graduate students, faculty, and staff also choose to learn and create in one of the three Co-Lab makerspace. Still, Kevin hopes that more members of the Duke community can feel comfortable using the space and the resources it provides.

“The challenge with the makerspaces is that people always have trouble taking that first step in, and in our case, we have the physical threshold of the garage door [at the TEC Studio],” Kevin said. “Oftentimes, when people are visiting for the first time, they’ll try to stay on the other side of it, because I guess they look at the space and think, ‘Oh, that’s not for me with all the 3D printers, tools, and computers,’ but really, it’s something that everyone can learn how to do.”

Kevin helps students at the Co-Lab Open House

What he hopes to accomplish in the Co-Lab:
In an effort to make the Co-Lab more approachable for the Duke community, Kevin and the Co-Lab staff have some long-term goals in place.

“Slow, iterative improvements of the Co-Lab is kind of the goal—the idea being that we want it to be more accessible, and we want people to come in and feel comfortable in the space,” Kevin said. “It’s just a matter of what small improvements we can make here and there and what small optimizations we can make to help the space feel more useful and approachable for people. Making is something anyone can do, so I hope people can do more of it.”

What he enjoys about working at Duke:
As a studio technician, the nature of Kevin’s job is not very flexible, yet he does appreciate working in a flexible environment.

While I’m not in a role that can ever really work from home, I do appreciate the flexibility that Duke provides,” Kevin said. “A lot of my friends work elsewhere, and their schedules aren’t as flexible, but here, it’s pretty relaxed.”

What he enjoys about working in the Co-Lab:
Kevin comes from a background of making. Although his degree was in architecture, he became enamored with fabrication.

“During the time between graduating college and before working at Duke, I felt like, ‘I want to make things, but I just don’t have the tools,’” Kevin said. “When I got to Duke and started working in the Co-Lab, I now have access to all these tools such as the laser cutters, the CNCs, the waterjets, and the 3D printers, and it’s so convenient.”

Kevin stands in front of the wall of 3D printers, reaching into a printer to check on a print

His favorite tech in the TEC:
Working in the Co-Lab, there is no shortage of technology that Kevin can work with. As much as he loves working with the 3D printers, his favorite tools in the makerspace are the laser cutters.

“They’re just such useful tools for making things quickly,” Kevin said. “Since you can laser cut things out of wood, you can then take what you make, sand it up, put a bit of sealant on it and a little bit of stain, and it just instantly looks super professional. So, in college, I used to make gifts for people all the time with the laser cutter, and I still do. I just can’t see myself without having a laser cutter.”

What he’s doing when he’s not at work:
Inside and outside of the Co-Lab, Kevin is always embracing his creative side. Each week, Kevin has a few tabletop roleplaying campaigns with his friends. A few of his go-to games are LANCER, Pathfinder 2e, and Gubat Banwa. Being the creator that he is, Kevin doesn’t just play these types of games; he designs them too.

“I enjoy making new game systems, testing them with my friends, and just iterating,” Kevin said. “It’s something I’m trying to weave into my work at the Co-Lab more with Roots classes and the projects that people can find on our website and start working with.”

Kevin and one of his friends from college, Gordon, have been working on a tabletop roleplaying game called ISEKAI since 2019. In the game, players are agents of the Inter-Series Expedition to Keep Anime Interesting, an organization that sends characters from shows that have already ended into currently airing shows to improve pacing, creatively revise bad writing, and remove outside interference.

He also released a new game at the end of April called Warded Wishes. In this tabletop roleplaying game, participants play as Magical Girls who hunt Monstrosities in tactical hex-based combat. Learn more details and how to play the game.

A fun fact about Kevin:
Kevin combines his love for crafting with his quick access to tools and resources at the Co-Lab for one of his favorite hobbies: live action role play (LARP).

“That’s been another fun thing I can do at the Co-Lab, because for that, I’m getting in costume, running around the woods for a weekend with a Nerf gun and a foam sword, and there are a lot of projects for those that I make at the Co-Lab,” Kevin said.

A photo of Kevin in costume, holding a Nerf gun, for a live action role play event
Photo by King Heron Events

Creating his LARP costumes consists of using several Co-Lab tools to 3D print objects, sew, and do leatherwork.

“LARPing is just one of my many muses,” Kevin said.

A photo of Kevin posing in a costume he designed for LARP
Photo by King Heron Events
A photo of Kevin in costume for a live action role play event
Photo by King Heron Events


Know someone in OIT with a story worth sharing? Nominate them (or yourself!) by emailing