SOMETHING BIG IS HAPPENING AT WSU
Wichita State University has become a beacon for change and innovation — a shining answer to Reach Advisors Data Analyst James Chung’s call to address the four challenges facing Wichita.
The Innovation Campus is the latest iteration of the four-year research university's efforts to redefine its future. It began with the Experiential Engineering Building and a second facility which houses Airbus America's Wichita operations. The Experiential Engineering Building is scheduled to open this month, to not only students and faculty, but also to the entire Wichita community.
Watch the video to get a peek inside the Experiential Engineering building and hear from the leaders who made it happen:
Innovation Campus occupies 120 acres of converted golf course on the eastern edge of Wichita State's main campus. Once completed, the group of buildings will comprise about a third of the campus' total square footage.
The Experiential Engineering building will house 25 engineering laboratories, spaces for partnering companies and organizations, common spaces for students and advanced technology from robotics to 3D printing.
Adjacent to the Experiential Engineering Building is the GoCreate community makerspace, which provides the tools and expertise for anyone with an idea — from a community member to a student — that they want to develop.
The inconspicuous common spaces, called pocket lounges, are perhaps most important, as they provide opportunities for what WSU President Dr. John Bardo calls "collisions."
"People who otherwise would not have had a reason to see each other [can] be around each other, will come together and start talking and something new will come out of that," he says. "What we know is we've got a really big Petri dish here and people can put all kinds of things in it and something new will come out of it."
What we know is we've got a really big Petri dish here and people can put all kinds of things in it and something new will come out of it.Dr. John Bardo
Hannah Hund, an Innovation Fellow at Wichita State who studies violin and biomedical engineering, says creating more opportunities for collision is especially important for college students.
"We often get caught up in whatever our respective buildings are," she says. "But if you have a space where there will be community members, where there will be industry members, you give students the opportunities to meet these people and learn new skills and just have overall interaction with people different than they would normally have interaction with."
From scratch, Innovation Campus is designed to spur these types of collisions, which Dr. Bardo believes will inevitably bring about innovations in all types of fields — from science and technology to art and psychology.
To assist in creating these collisions, the building was also designed to be transparent, says Emily Patterson, associate director of facilities planning at WSU. Instead of being blocked off by metal walls, the labs in the Experiential Engineering Building have windows that look up through the hallways of the building.
"When you're walking through, we have glass looking into all the labs," says Emily Patterson, associate director of facilities planning at WSU. "So if you're in mechanical engineering, you can look in and see what aerospace students are doing and maybe get an idea from the labs that they're in."
This idea extends to the building’s exterior, creating a symbolic gateway to the rest of campus. A large glass wall faces 17th Street, allowing anyone walking on the edge of campus to see through the building, into the center of Innovation Campus.
What we're really trying to say, symbolically, with this building, is this is your gateway to the university. We want you here, community. We want you to come in.Dr. John Bardo
"What we're really trying to say, symbolically, with this building, is this is your gateway to the university," Dr. Bardo says. "We want you here, community. We want you to come in."
Several businesses in the community have already answered that call, including European aircraft manufacturer Airbus, which is now situated just to the north of the Experiential Engineering Building. Other companies and organizations are onboard. Dessault Systems and NetApp companies will have presences on the campus and plans have been announced to construct a new Law Enforcement Training Center. A total of nine partnership buildings are planned for the campus.
"I think that definitely creates an opportunity for the community and industry to be really involved in our education and success," Hund says. "The ability to mingle with other businesses is really invaluable to students."
It's also invaluable for the businesses, says Dr. John Tomblin, vice president for research and technology transfer at WSU and the executive director of the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR).
"When I talk to businesses about being on the Innovation Campus, it's more about growing a workforce for the future," he says. "They also want a low-cost workforce. The Innovation Campus can do both. ... It benefits the company as well as the student."
These partnerships have also struck a chord with private developers. Only two buildings — the Experiential Engineering Building and the proposed business building — are actually university buildings. The rest will be developed largely with private funds.
Already, the Innovation Campus has attracted developers of a private apartment complex designated mainly for students, a full-service Starbucks and several proposed restaurants and a hotel.
"I've given six tours a week during construction from different companies all over Wichita and the surrounding area," Patterson says. "It's really created this energy that makes people want to be here."
All of these multiple nodes of innovation are really going side-by-side with the Innovation Campus in making this a more attractive place to live and work.
The future of Innovation Campus is still developing. Patterson says the master plan, which is on version 27, was designed to be fluid as plans change and more companies agree to come on board.
Lou Heldman, vice president for strategic communications at WSU, says Innovation Campus is only one of several pieces working to create a better Wichita — one that attracts talent and creates the future of innovation and technology.
"There's a ripple effect to all the other business located here," he says. "It's not just Innovation Campus that's exciting. It's that we now have six craft breweries that we didn't have a couple years ago. It's that we now have the e2e Accelerator downtown. It's that we have the MakeICT space on Douglas. It's that we have the Groundwork place for start-ups. All of these multiple nodes of innovation are really going side-by-side with the Innovation Campus in making this a more attractive place to live and work."