In today’s world, technology has taken over almost every facet of life. Across the nation, universities are creating new and groundbreaking ways to help students stay ahead of the curve.
One of Florida State University’s strategic goals is to deepen its commitment to continuous innovation. In the quest to put students at the forefront of the technology revolution and the job market, FSU has opened the new, state-of-the-art Innovation Hub.
The 14,000-square-foot space, located in the Louis Shores Building, is perfect for collective or solo projects and supports groups of up to 140 people. Truly an interdisciplinary venture, the hub has partnered with 17 different colleges and departments on campus to provide access to the latest technologies.
“The Innovation Hub is positioned as a cornerstone in the world-class entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem we are building at FSU,” said Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Sally McRorie. “We want every student, regardless of background, to be empowered to be an innovator who can use their talents to address the immense challenges we are facing in the world.”
The idea for an innovation center, in one form or another, has been considered by a number of FSU programs for more than a decade. The concept finally clicked into place when Larry Dennis, dean of the College of Communication & Information and Ken Baldauf, then director of the Program in Interdisciplinary Computing and McRorie worked together to craft a plan that incorporated the interests of multiple departments.
They envisioned a central location on campus that would provide students from all degree programs with access to virtual reality, 3-D printers and other tools, along with training in design, coding and the technical skills needed to operate new technologies.
Enthused by the plan, the Provost’s Office invested $2.5 million to make the project a reality, and the School of Information provided the space — prime real estate centrally located in the Shores Building on Landis Green.
Before the final plans were made, McRorie sent Baldauf out to learn everything he could about innovation centers. He attended workshops and visited multiple universities that already had innovation centers in place. One that stood out was Xavier University’s center, which is based on the idea of design thinking. Baldauf was immediately inspired.
“It wasn’t the 3-D printers and other equipment that made the space special, it was the design thinking aspect of it,” said Baldauf, now the director of FSU’s Innovation Hub. “The equipment was there to support the creative process. Innovation is about ideas and process, not about machines.”
The design thinking methodology provides a human-centered approach to solving problems that focuses on human needs, framing the problem, creating ideas through ideation and adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping and testing.
“Students can learn about the process of working together in diverse groups,” Baldauf said. “They learn critical thinking, problem-solving skills and get real-world experiences moving through the five stages of design thinking. It’s ideally situated for where higher education wants to go.”
Baldauf is teaching a design thinking course for the first time this semester. More than 100 students are enrolled, many from the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship.
Along with a collaborative workspace for students to share ideas, create prototypes and come up with solutions to real-world problems, the hub also is where they can build and expand on designs and projects. It features different areas with cutting-edge technology, such as:
- Maker Space with 3-D printers, laser cutters and Arduino boards
- Virtual Reality Lab with graphics workstations, 360 photography and video, hololenses, leap motion and Kinect
- Hacker Space with prototyping work benches, hi-end graphics workstations and materials library; a hangout space with a café and patio (coming in August)
- Collaborative Work Space with an auditorium, program and pitch rooms
- Collaborative Tech Space with projectors, wall space and whiteboards for design thinking
Student Alyson Kapper, a junior information, communications and technology major, visits the Innovation Hub almost every day with her friends to study and utilize the free resources offered.
“The collaborative space is a really cool place to get things done,” Kapper said. “It’s introduced me to a lot of new technology, and it’s amazing I get to use it all for free. The staff is also there to actively help me learn how to use the technology.”
There are student ambassadors and staff available on site to assist with any design, technology or fabrication need. In addition, there will be onsite and online education classes, workshops, demonstrations and training programs available.
“To thrive in the new innovation economy, our students will be asked to design, create and collaborate as they confront new challenges and technology,” said Assistant Provost Joe O’Shea. “The Innovation Hub is an exciting addition to the campus, helping our students develop cutting-edge approaches in problem solving and innovation that they can deploy at FSU and beyond.”
The Innovation Hub is open from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
An Innovation Hub Celebration will take place in conjunction with the annual DIGITECH event April 11.
For more information, visit innovation.fsu.edu.