5 keys to creating a successful campus innovation center

A UB Tech® presentation will focus on what it takes to develop a state-of-the-art makerspace that prepares students for STEM careers
By: | May 2, 2019

Providing college students with intensive opportunities for creative, hands-on DIY projects helps prepare them for STEM careers, but developing the space on campus for those activities requires elaborate planning and teamwork.

How to build sophisticated innovation centers (aka makerspaces or fab labs) will be the focus of a presentation at the upcoming UB Tech® conference entitled “How to Develop a Makerspace that Supports a Thriving STEM Ecosystem.” UB Tech will take place June 10-12 in Orlando.

“Research shows experiential learning in the lab attracts and retains students in STEM fields, even through tough science and math coursework,” says Ingrid Ellerbe, the session presenter. Ellerbe is executive director of Base 11, a nonprofit STEM workforce accelerator that partners with colleges and universities to develop makerspaces.

“These innovation centers help students move from theory to practicality, and allow them to show prospective employers a body of relevant work that goes beyond the résumé,” Ellerbe says.

But creating a state-of-the-art innovation center goes beyond filling an unused room with computer-aided design workstations and 3D printers. Here are the keys to a successful innovation center, according to Ellerbe:

  1. Leadership buy-in—“There has to be commitment from the school’s top leaders, including the board,” she says. “If they’re not behind it, it won’t work.”
  2. Space planning—Inevitably, you’ll need more space than you think, Ellerbe says. Fab labs are immensely popular with students, and the hands-on nature of the activities requires a lot of work surfaces, computer stations and storage areas.
  3. Community collaboration—The most successful innovation centers are built with an eye to the kinds of STEM skills in demand by area employers.
  4. Funding—Equipment alone can cost up to $150,000, Ellerbe says. Plus, there are costs related to construction, power, HVAC, internet access and other considerations.
  5. Time—However long you initially think it may take to develop a modern innovation center on campus, you should probably double that time estimate, according to Ellerbe.

“Planning evolves as the process continues,” she says. “Project creep happens, but that’s not always a bad thing; you need to expect it and accept it.”

For more information about UB Tech® 2019 visit www.ubtechconference.com.