Building Bridges Between Disciplines
Through Studio 231, a learning laboratory and makerspace, Rowan University connects students and faculty from disciplines across campus to work on early-stage research and commercialization projects.
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The idea for Studio 231 originated with four undergraduate students, Rowan’s University Innovation Fellows (UIF), who coveted a space that could be used to build bridges between students and faculty from disciplines across campus. The UIF team themselves spanned four of Rowan’s colleges, and their core focus was to explore opportunities to better foster interdisciplinary collaboration. After a year of research and several focus groups, they settled on hosting a daylong mini-conference with 70 Rowan students. The conference went well, but what emerged from that was a need for a physical home for year-round collaboration. More thought and work ensued, and the student champions, working in partnership with university administration, co-created Studio 231, dedicated space focused on experimentation, rapid prototyping, and design thinking, to be used as a platform for meaningful interdisciplinary collaboration.
The end result is one that could have been predicted by anyone who knows Rowan University well; the university is built on the foundation that interdisciplinary collaboration, entrepreneurial spirit, and experimentation are fundamental to success. Henry Rowan, the university’s namesake, was an engineer-turned-entrepreneur, who pushed the university to be bold. Rowan believed in the power of business to advance society and that interdisciplinary collaboration can be a powerful and transformative force.
Studio 231 is a experiential learning laboratory and makerspace serving both students and faculty. Located within the Rohrer College of Business, it has become an interdisciplinary hub for collaboration, ideation, rapid prototyping, and research. It’s equipped with low-resolution prototyping supplies (cardboard, wood, hand tools, glue, etc.), multiple 3D printers (including computers and design software), Arduino and Raspberry Pi kits and related accessories, and carpentry equipment. The studio boasts several distinctive qualities.
First, it is staffed with trained engineering and business students who know how to operate all of the equipment in the space (no more 3D printers sitting unused because nobody knows how they work). Any student with an idea is welcome to use the space for free, including free assistance from the student staff who will help students design and build prototypes.
A second point of distinction is that the studio has strong pedagogical integration (it’s as much a learning laboratory as it is a makerspace). From a curricular perspective, students from all six sections of Entrepreneurship and Innovation each complete three learning modules in the space (design thinking, low-resolution prototyping, and high-resolution prototyping) each semester. Additionally, students enrolled in Technology Entrepreneurship use the studio for a variety of custom projects each semester. On the co-curricular side, the studio runs a series of topical workshops.
A third point of distinction is the cross-campus partnerships the studio has forged, including those with the arts program, multiple student clubs, the mechanical engineering lab, and even anthropology.
Since its inception in October 2017, student teams, faculty, and student/faculty partnerships have worked in the studio on a wide array of research and commercialization projects. Business school faculty are using the space not just for pedagogical purposes but also to gather data for research on entrepreneurship pedagogy and its effectiveness. Engineering students are working in tandem with business students to advance lab research toward commercialization.
Projects have ranged from redesigning the next generation of explosives screening wands for use in airports, to the development of pet prosthetics, to the creation of drone software for autonomous flight to aid first responders in crisis situations, to the development and prototyping of potentially industry-changing wearable technology.
Using the semester beginning September 2018 as an example, the studio trained over 240 unique students on three distinct learning modules, hosted an additional seven workshops with a cumulative 132 attendees, printed over 120 3D objects, and aided in the production of over 30 total prototypes. These students came from all across Rowan’s campus, spanning five colleges and more than 15 distinct majors.
Dassault Systèmes Solidworks Corporation; Rowan College of Engineering; American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Rowan Chapter; Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Rowan Chapter; University Innovation Fellows, Rowan Chapter; VentureWell