White paper on Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
UW-Madison Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
The center would support undergraduate innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, project-oriented just-in-time learning, and entrepreneurship. "Collaborate. Play. Undertake" are the watch words for the first year student. Campus themes including the Wisconsin Idea, sustainability, and social entrepreneurship are guiding principles throughout a 4-year certificate curriculum.
The center would constitute a central physical space (e.g. dedicated remodeled physical plant shop building next to WID, or a legacy library or a new building) with characteristics of co-working spaces like 100State in Madison (http://100state.com/), of blended learning spaces like WISCEL at Wendt Library (http://www.wiscel.wisc.edu/) and Hybrid Zone X at WID (http://wid.wisc.edu/programs/hzx/), and of open labs like the new Garage Physics (www.physics.wisc.edu/garage). It would support a "virtual maker space" facilitating student access to shops, art lofts, open labs, media centers, and other campus facilities being inventoried by the 2013-14 SIRE Wisconsin Make Sustain project, and potentially enable more efficient use of such campus resources. The gathering, breakout, work, and presentation spaces in the center and the virtual maker space would answer a student who asks questions like: "I've this intriguing idea. How do I find collaborators outside my major, and information and a community of support, and how can I build a prototype here on campus and then test this idea in the real world? BTW, I want to have fun and get credit along the way and maybe start a company." and "I am tired of sitting passively in classes. I want to DO something. Where can I go?"
Academic scaffolding would comprise discipline specific feeder classes for first year students in great ideas, innovation, and entrepreneurship, courses which might address specifically trends and possibilities emerging in physics, computer science, chemistry, business, art, theater, biology, engineering, and so on. The InterEngineering (http://public.my.wisc.edu/portal/f/u124l1s4/p/CourseGuide-Browse-Courses.u124l1n31/detached/render.uP?pCm=view&pP_action=advancedSearch&pP_form-submit=true&pP_resultsView=expanded&pP_resultsPerPage=35&pP_subjectChoice=496), ILS (http://ils.wisc.edu/) and FIGs (http://figs.wisc.edu/) programs are possible contributors. The core and capstone program would aggregate, leverage, and extend the Weinhardt Center's certificate in entrepreneurship (http://bus.wisc.edu/centers/weinert), the Entrepreneurial Residential Learning Community (http://www.housing.wisc.edu/erlc) for first year students, and the variety of student business plan/startup competitions in place. The center would span the campus, not be the sole responsibility of L&S, Engineering, or the Business School. While pulling together a number of present faculty and programs, it would require provost-level support for direction and space-planning, new hires ( Madison Initiative for Undergraduates II (?) faculty plus staff), and a funding stream for new course development, advising, student project materials, and shop/open lab training and supervision.
A style of learning activated by projects is endorsed by STE(A)M professional organizations. Making is natural for the artist but less so for the 21st century STEM-candidate undergraduate suffering an increasingly virtual upbringing. Our own Biomedical Engineering program (http://www.engr.wisc.edu/bme/bme-academics-undergraduate-program.html) with project learning as the core of its curriculum is an example of the new recognition and implementation of the old idea that practical work is an essential part of learning. 'Making,' meaning hands-on tangible activity, is increasingly visible nationally both in K-12 education and as a grass roots movement, enabled by new readily accessibility of technology like 3D printers, open source CADware, and online collaboration tools. (Both the city of Madison and the city of Chicago opened public library maker spaces this year.) Hands-on laboratory research experience is a pillar in the most successful undergraduate physics programs according to a recent national study by the American Physical Society. Garage Physics is my fledgling attempt to provide a home for physics students to undertake innovative self-directed hands-on research and learning and for entrepreneurial undergraduates throughout campus to coalesce, build physical prototypes, and consider launching companies - to get practical. I invite you to browse the Garage websitewww.physics.wisc.edu/garage to get a sense of the possibilities.
There is growing interest nationally in university fablabs (similar to Garage Physics) focused on engineering students, in entrepreneurship certificate programs similar the Weinhardt center certificate focused on business students (usually grad level), and in software competitions and classes catering to entrepreneurial computer science students. The proposed center in a R1 public university setting could break new ground by adopting an interdisciplinary comprehensive approach and by focusing on undergraduates. The program would complement initiatives by WARF and WEN and the Provost to foster entrepreneurship amongst UW faculty. The concept of a campus wide initiative for undergraduate entrepreneurship carries enthusiastic support from the local business people and campus entrepreneurs I have met. As a bridge between the public and private sectors, it might enjoy support from private funding sources and from the legislature. As a STEM initiative, the center might be eligible for federal support.