Sep 08, 2016
BY:
THEME: Learning, Technology + Innovation

A Bold Approach to Technology and Innovation at Clemson University

It’s hard to keep up with today’s technology. Colleges and universities face a constant uphill battle with this rapid pace of change coupled with tech’s high costs and shrinking institutional budgets. Despite that, Clemson University had a vision to create a high tech environment that would allow students, faculty, and industry partners to come together, develop ideas, and take ideas from concept to marketplace in one space. The Watt Family Innovation Center became a vehicle for that vision by creating an intellectual center for collaboration and student engagement that fosters an interactive learning experience and provides an agile interdisciplinary science and technology environment, all while engaging industry partners in order to make the enterprise fiscally sustainable.

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The exterior of the Watt Family Innovation Center features a two-story media grid that faces the rest of the Clemson University campus.

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It achieved this first objective with the help of a robust technology network. The University wanted a facility that would be designed not just to accommodate the technology of tomorrow, but the technology of the day after tomorrow. The building helps aid research, innovation, collaboration, and interactive learning through the use of some of the industry’s top technology solutions.  It had to be both a new standard for the University as well as a lab for experimentation in the ways students learn and collaborate.  A few numbers: the building hosts 73 spaces containing AV technology, 354 types of hardware, 4,372 pieces of hardware, 191 large-screen, high-resolution touch monitors, 12 video walls, a cinema-quality 3D laser projection system, four networks along with building-wide videoconferencing and collaboration systems, and, soon to come, an Immersive Theater.

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The building deploys a number of collaboration and communication tools like BlueJeans and Skype. The building’s displays are wirelessly addressable from personal devices eliminating the need for messy connector cables throughout the building. An incredibly fast network allows users to share resources across the building as well as connect to the campus’s nationally-recognized, high-performance computing center.  The building is networked among the state’s LightRail system, allowing it to tie into a network of collaborative work suites at innovation centers across the state. In fact, the Watt Family Innovation Center is the virtual connectivity management center within this network.

At the end of the day, the facility and its embedded technology are all about the students—the investments and partnerships need to be established to ensure student success. The spaces within the building include active learning classrooms that house large touch screen monitors that are can be divided in order to aid the collaborative active learning process.  Project rooms for innovation and Clemson’s Creative Inquiry program are equipped with the tools needed for creativity and interaction.  A rapid prototyping suite hosts an array of 3D printing options along with a laser cutter and other tools to allow for the prototyping of ideas.  The adjacent high bay lab provides flexibility for large-scale projects. The building also provides high-tech public space, like a showcase auditorium, and technology-rich informal spaces that aid learning, collaboration, and innovative exchanges.

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With a facility like this focused on ‘now’ technology, its long-term sustainability comes into question.  Given the rate at which technology changes, equipment refresh rates, maintenance cycles, and the ability to upgrade with the pace of change, many institutions struggle with making these types of large technology investments.  At Clemson University, they tackled this challenge by involving community and industry partners in the mission of this facility.  Industry partners gain a key benefit by helping the future workforce acquire the critical skills needed to survive in industry. These partners take special interest in student and faculty ideas and see the value in collaborating and innovating in the academic setting.  Through these partnerships, the Watt Family Innovation Center benefits through gifts-in-kind, active collaboration in student projects, and board positions that help steer the trajectory of the facility, while securing its long term sustainability.

Innovation centers are rapidly emerging on many university campuses. The Watt Family Innovation Center serves the academic community as a resource and example of how to manifest a strong vision for student success.

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