Slice of Life

John Mangicaro can’t stop tinkering, but it landed him his dream job

Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo Editor

John Mangicaro is a supervisor at the MakerSpace. On any given day he is fixing a 3-D printer, doing consultations or helping students and faculty with projects.

In the first grade, John Mangicaro received a mechanical car as a present and he took it apart only to put it back together again. Then, he fixed the broken color TV. After that, he moved on to cars — rebuilding them before he ever learned to drive. Mangicaro is a tinkerer, and building is what he loves to do.

He grew up a house three blocks away from Syracuse University. Learning about gravity by falling out of trees, velocity by shooting a BB gun, Mangicaro spent his childhood exploring the world around him.

“I think when I was born, when they handed me a baby bottle, instead of drinking out of it, I took it apart,” Mangicaro said.

After graduating high school, Mangicaro took a job at SU as a part of its IT department. Nearly 40 years later, he works as head supervisor for its MakerSpace — a computer lab that specializes in 3-D printing. Though he’s had a stable career at SU, Mangicaro’s path was nontraditional. He doesn’t have a degree in mechanical engineering, and never went to college.

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Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo Editor

“I still don’t like school. Me, I’m more of a hands guy,” Mangicaro said.

Instead, everything he knows about fixing things comes from technical classes and doing it on his own.

It makes sense, given his personality. He’s been a drummer in four bands, a syrup-maker, a plumber, a roofer and a gardener.

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Graphic illustration by Andy Mendes

“He can pretty much do anything and everything,” Gianna Mangicaro, his daughter said. She is a senior management major and student supervisor at the MakerSpace.

Gianna credits her father with teaching her technical skills, like how to change a tire or fix a bathroom. Gianna remembers studying igloos as a child. When Gianna told her dad about them – he went out to their front yard, and they built three.

The actual MakerSpace is a product of Mangicaro, in a sense — the whirring of 3-D printers, the constant flow of conversation and the students thinking and working. Like Mangicaro’s own origins, the space started small — just a single 3-D printer in Newhouse.

As more and more people expressed interest in 3-D printing, the IT department decided to expand the program into a full-fledged space. Mangicaro was tasked with choosing a permanent home and picked the basement of Kimmel Hall because of its musical roots. Formerly known as the Jabberwocky Cafe, Mangicaro’s band actually played in the space that is now home to the 3-D printers.

“Where we’re sitting right now is the dressing room I used to sit and drink tequila,” Mangicaro said, and he even has his band’s poster hanging up in his office to prove it.

The space officially opened in 2014. Mangicaro helps manage a team of 16 student workers who assist with MakerSpace’s facilities, including an industrial embroidery machine, a vinyl cutting machine, a laser engraver and, of course, the 3-D printing.

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Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo Editor

Peter Lok, a senior mechanical engineering major and student facilitator at the space, appreciates Mangicaro’s leadership style.

“He lets you work by yourself with minimal supervision,” Lok said. “He trusts that you can do a lot of the things that he asks you to.”

Mangicaro takes a hands-off approach partially because he thinks that’s how students learn, but also because of his heavy workload. As a supervisor, Mangicaro is often running from one problem to the next — fixing a 3-D printer, consulting with someone on the phone about the MakerSpace or helping students or faculty with their projects.

Mangicaro said he often comes in with five things to accomplish, but is lucky to get one done. The amount of work at the MakerSpace means he’s constantly multitasking. Most nights, he stays past the end of his shift.

“The weird thing it did to me, I can’t work on one thing anymore,” Mangicaro said.

But the actual interaction with students is also what drives Mangicaro. Will Carrara, a senior aerospace engineering major and student facilitator at the space, recalled the fact that Mangicaro took him out to lunch on Thanksgiving because Carrara was unable to make it home to California.

“He’s a good guy,” Carrara said.

“He just loves it,” his daughter Gianna said. “He loves to come to work every day.”

After all, Mangicaro just can’t stop tinkering.

“I just have an obsessiveness,” Mangicaro said.  “When I see something, I just want to take it all apart and I am not happy or satisfied until I understand everything that goes on inside the thing.”

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