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Q4: Ian Gatley, director, Center for Student Innovation, RIT

Q: Why did Rochester Institute of Technology decide to build the Center for Student Innovation?

A: During RIT president Bill Destler’s inaugural address, he asked the RIT community to imagine how powerful it would be if our students had the experience of working on complex societal problems in teams with students from different majors-each student bringing his or her own discipline-specific knowledge to a cross-disciplinary effort to find real solutions. RIT’s Center for Student Innovation is making that vision a reality. We want to endow RIT students with the ability to join or lead multidisciplinary teams. When students understand the process of innovation, they will develop the ability to take risks, to expose their works-in-progress, to improvise, to admit ignorance when appropriate and to explore always.

Q: In meetings with students before building the center, what kind of input did they give and how was that used in the final design?

A: A series of town-hall-style meetings took place last academic year that asked students the question, "How do we approach innovation at RIT?" Part of that discussion entailed what they would like to see in a Center for Student Innovation. It was clear that they wanted a space that they could call their own-one that they could access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They wanted meeting spaces and they wanted space that was versatile enough to take different shapes for different purposes. We met those requests. Rarely will you see the furniture arranged the same way that it was the day before. It truly is a dynamic space that was designed to stir the imagination of our students.

Q: What features will be available for students in the center?

A: The center is a striking, 10,000-square-foot circular glass structure. Its dramatic appearance immediately provokes students to wonder, "How do I get involved, and what exciting things will I be doing there?" We have one of RIT’s Formula cars and a student-built concrete canoe hanging from the ceiling. There are also several works of art on display. We have meeting spaces and a conference room. The center also features a unique, four-panel video wall. I imagine our students will have some fun with that. But really the space is intended to be very flexible.

It serves many people and many functions. Think of a park, which could be the setting for a picnic, a ball game or a concert. The center is not set up as a classroom, a lab or a workshop-but it could be any of those things at any time.

Q: How will it encourage multidisciplinary cooperation among students?

A: I’m in the process of speaking to every first-year RIT student through our first-year enrichment classes. I explain to them what the center is and how they can shape what it becomes. It’s clear that they are truly excited about the prospect of collaborating with their peers from across the university. In the past, students may have wanted to collaborate on projects with students in other majors but didn’t know where to find them. Now they know-they come here, to the Center for Student Innovation. And when they do, they will emerge able to shape processes and to achieve goals, and through collaboration they will learn an appreciation for other disciplines and for diverse perspectives. That’s what the Center for Student Innovation is all about.

10/02/09 (c) 2009 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303.


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