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State-of-the-art Center for Innovation opens as new ‘makerspace’ for inventors, dreamers

A crowd of hundreds attends a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday on the 2nd floor of the H.T. Sampson Library for the Center for Innovation. It waits anxiously to enter the facility after JSU’s Office of Research and Economic Development spent months preparing for the grand opening. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU) (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

A crowd of hundreds attends a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday on the 2nd floor of the H.T. Sampson Library for the Center for Innovation. It waits anxiously to enter the facility after JSU’s Office of Research and Economic Development spent months preparing for the grand opening. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU) (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

President William B. Bynum Jr. and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Lynda Brown-Wright are assisted by Miss JSU Naysa Lynch and SGA President Jordan Jefferson. Lynch is also a fellow with the Center for Innovation. RIGHT: After a short wait, the crowd appears amazed after walking inside the new innovative facility. (Photos by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

LEFT: The ribbon-cutting ceremony marks the opening of the Center for Innovation at Jackson State University. RIGHT: After a short wait, the crowd appears amazed after walking inside the new innovation facility. (Photos by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

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About 200 people gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the grand opening Thursday of JSU’s Center for Innovation that combines education, research and entrepreneurship in a single location that could spur inventions to power the economy and simplify life.

Whittaker

Whittaker

The new facility for students, faculty and staff provides access to virtual experiences with Oculus VR technology, and 3D printing to develop whatever they imagine. As well, there’s a soundproof room to create top-quality podcasts and green screen backgrounds. Each of these cutting-edge technologies are housed in a vast “expertise co-location” center, “makerspace” and Collaboratory, located on the 2nd floor of the H.T. Sampson Library.

Also, the “one-stop shop” offers advice on technology transfer for moving innovative products and ideas to the market. This is especially important “because most universities don’t provide this convenience, which is critical to making this center a success,” said Dr. Almesha L. Campbell. She’s the director of JSU’s Technology Transfer, Commercialization and Research Communications in the Office of Research and Economic Development. Campbell led the development of the center that was conceptualized by Dr. Joseph A. Whittaker, associate provost and vice president for Research and Economic Development.

RIGHT: A fellow assists a student going through one of the VR simulations. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

A Center for Innovation fellow assists a student going through one of the VR simulations. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

In addition, Campbell said the Center for Innovation represents the three pillars of success outlined in JSU’s strategic plan. The pillars guide JSU toward (1) teamwork and collegiality; (2) pursuit of excellence; and (3) student-centeredness.

“Again, all of these are demonstrated in one place,” Campbell said. “The center provides the resources to create prototypes and learn about entrepreneurship. Students can also indulge in app development, game design and graphic designs.”

She added that “students get to collaborate with their peers because the center is interdisciplinary, meaning that it doesn’t focus exclusively on STEM, for example. Rather, we have students from several different academic disciplines. This is important because some students may have a particular skillset, and this approach allows them to collaborate and learn from each other, and build something truly innovative.”

Campbell also initiated an Innovation Fellows Program made up of students to help sustain the center and infuse innovation throughout the JSU campus. Before the grand opening, 10 fellows were trained as ambassadors and facilitators. They demonstrated and showcased all they created: VR games, mobile apps, 3D designs, gadgets, and other tech models.

JSU alum Marcus Jones tests out software from HP. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

JSU alum Marcus Jones tests out software from HP. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

This year’s fellows represent several academic disciplines:

  • Amanuel Gebre – computer science
  • Naysa Lynch – marketing
  • Ahmed Mohammadali – computer science (master’s)
  • Nwanne Onumah – Dr.PH in Public Health (epidemiology)
  • Audrey Robinson – mass communications
  • Dipannita Saha – graphic design
  • Vince Sheffey – computer science
  • Kayla Singleton – graphic design
  • Dinaol Tadesse – computer engineering
  • Simon Williams – computer engineering

Furthermore, they assisted peers, faculty, staff and guests in each creative area of the center. Before the fellows graduate, however, they must train at least two other fellows who would potentially become part of the program.

Dipannita Sasha, a senior graphic design major, stands in front of the brilliantly,  colorful mural she created for the center. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Dipannita Saha, a senior graphic design major, displays the brilliantly, colorful mural that she created for the center. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

One of the fellows is Ahmed Mohmmedali, a native of Sudan. He’s a computer science master’s student in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET). He said his primary area in the Center for Innovation is software development.

Mohmmed Ali

Mohammedali

“All the technology here is very interesting to me. Technology, in general, makes life easier – from developing software applications to using 3D printers. It helps produce valuable skills that can change anyone’s life. Many people who come here may decide later to abandon their specialization to pursue a career in technology. I encourage every one of our students and innovators to visit the center,” Mohmmedali said.

Another fellow, Vince Sheffey of New Mexico, is also a senior computer science major. He is in charge of the VR space. “I help anyone who wants assistance with virtual reality. If I had this when I was freshman I would be way ahead. For anyone just coming to JSU, you have a lot of opportunities to pursue your own projects. You can make your own videos for virtual reality. There’s a lot of creativity for technical and non-technical individuals. Here, you can also make T-shirts, buttons and websites. If I were a freshman, I would test everything here. Find out what you’re good at, not good at and what you’d like to do. Then you can focus the rest of your years on being great at that,” he said.

During the initial phase of the VR component, Whittaker had said, “This is a way to have real-world experiences virtually and to reinforce what you learn in the classroom.” So, he pursued a neutral design space to allow people to create, explore and experiment with an idea – “whether it’s entrepreneurial or just something that they thought of overnight.”

Meanwhile, with JSU already hailed as a “higher-research activity university” by the Carnegie Foundation, Associate Provost Whittaker’s vision was for JSU to infuse even more technology into its curricula. He called the new center “revolutionary.”

Speaking about JSU, HP’s Mike Belcher, director of Education Technology Innovation for the Americas, said, “We immediately saw there was a synergy.” (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Speaking about JSU, HP’s Mike Belcher, director of Education Technology Innovation for the Americas, said, “We immediately saw there was a synergy.” (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

An HP associate was available to help facilitate individuals through one of its popular VR displays. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

An HP associate was available to help facilitate individuals through one of its popular VR displays. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

During the initial phase of the VR component, Whittaker had said, “This is a way to have real-world experiences virtually and to reinforce what you learn in the classroom.” So, he pursued a neutral design space to allow people to create, explore and experiment with an idea – “whether it’s entrepreneurial or just something that they thought of overnight.”

With the opening of the new center, Whittaker’s dream was finally being realized after faculty, staff and students swarmed into the center to explore new horizons in creativity. He also credited the support from Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Lynda Brown-Wright, who called the center “transformative.” He was especially grateful for the “tremendous” support and energy demonstrated by Campbell and her fellows.

Dr. Almesha L. Campbell helped to spearhead the development of the center. She’s the director of JSU’s Technology Transfer, Commercialization and Research Communications in the Office of Research and Economic Development. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Dr. Almesha L. Campbell helped to spearhead the development of the center. She’s the director of JSU’s Technology Transfer, Commercialization and Research Communications in the Office of Research and Economic Development. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Guests included community businesses, Small Business Administration and representatives from various higher educational institutions such as Georgia Tech, University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University. As well, industry giants Entergy and HP, which have committed to expanding their partnership with JSU, were also in attendance. Even representatives from the technology transfer industry supported the opening.

HP’s Mike Belcher, director of Education Technology Innovation for the Americas, works closely with K-12 and higher education. The company examines the future of technology and what it means for the economic future of the U.S.

Belcher said, “I had a chance to meet with Dr. Whittaker and Dr. Campbell. They came out to one of our HP facilities in Houston to do a briefing on these new technologies. We immediately saw there was a synergy. The work they had envisioned for the Center for Innovation was exactly the sort of programs that we have in play. So, we asked to be involved wherever they need us, wherever we can help. We’re going to help in the process of thinking through some of their new spaces – academically and instructionally. HP is in the process of building curricula that would be really valuable, particularly around 3D printing and manufacturing. And, we do all sorts of grants and programs around building instructional material for virtual reality. So, we’re going to work on a partnership there as well.”

An HP assistant was available to help facilitate individuals through one of its popular VR displays. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

A Center for Innovation fellow guided another individual through one of the popular VR displays. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Christopher Burke of Entergy Corp. recently relocated to Jackson from Houston, Texas. He said he’s committed to supporting JSU. He noted that the university has many successful alums who work in the industry and are willing to “come back to serve to help the university thrive.”

Burke said Entergy, as a corporate entity, has a vested interest in JSU because of the university’s “diversity, belonging, inclusion-standpoint, and being an HBCU. I’m looking forward to being a part of a partnership that’s already been in existence between Jackson State and Entergy Corporation.”

North Carolina’s Nanovest Financial is a company in the technology transfer industry. Its representatives  also commended JSU for the support it provides to innovators.

Aditya Badve, president and partner of Nanovest, said tech transfer takes innovation and figures out whether a product will work in the market and how to get it there. “We lay out the steps for a typical innovator at a university (student, faculty, staff, anyone). We share the thought processes in working with Dr. Campbell, or any tech transfer office, in order to validate their invention and take it to the market.”

Nanovest’s business strategist Kevin Magee added that “if a researcher, professor or student develops a product, the university owns a piece of that. The university then is motivated to generate some revenue, and they’re motivated to support their researcher. That entire process includes patent review, too,” he said.

During the opening ceremony, Provost Brown-Wright announced the launch of the Young Innovators Program, a partnership between Academic Affairs, the center and Blackburn Middle School in the Jackson Public School District. The program will use project-based learning to encourage critical thinking and immerse students in virtual reality and 3D modeling. As well, it will introduce young learners to the invention process to stimulate and foster creative thinking and spark an inventive spirit.

Overall, Campbell said the support for the center has been “extraordinary.” She said she’s “extremely grateful” for the corporate and private support. Along with that, she said the university will announce a Presidential Innovation Challenge that will support the efforts of the Center for Innovation. “Visit the center, talk to the fellows, and stay tuned,” she said.

More guests immerse themselves into the VR world with the help of HP representatives. RIGHT: Another JSU student learns how to navigate through virtual reality with help from a fellow with the Center for Innovation. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

More guests immersed themselves into the VR world with the help of HP representatives. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

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Campbell, right, is joined by guests and supporters of the center. Among them is inventor LaMonte Pierce, left, who used the 3D printers at JSU to develop his innovative, patented Cleanstraww. His device filters lead and other contaminants from water has caught the attention of investors, Walmart, and domestic and global distributors, too. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)