March 21, 2016

SIU plans ‘Innovation and Sustainability Hub’

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. – A new Innovation and Sustainability Hub at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will showcase campus innovation activities and sustainability initiatives and serve as a collaborative space to share information and engage the campus with these activities. 

The Hub, opening soon in the former Starbucks location at the north end of the Student Center, is a collaborative project of the Center for Innovation and the Sustainability Office at SIU. It will feature information and displays about current and future innovation and sustainability efforts on campus to increase awareness and student participation. Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell supports the project. 

"This will be a great way to highlight our efforts and engage more members of the university community in these important initiatives," he said. 

The Innovation and Sustainability Hub will be operated at various times by staff of the two offices, undergraduate and graduate assistants, and SIU’s student Sustainability Fellows and University Innovation Fellows. The hours will vary, with some activities taking place during evening or weekend hours when students are more likely to be able to join in. The Hub will feature display space to showcase sustainability efforts and campus research as well as room for workshops and activities related to innovation and sustainability. 

Work is underway to renovate the space, with the opening planned for the week of April 4. Students in the Design Process and Presentation class taught by Tao Huang, assistant professor of design and faculty Sustainability Council member, are working with both units as well as with the University Innovation Fellows to design an attractive and inviting space that takes into account the mission and focus of the Hub. Students recently presented thumbnail sketches for signage and directional information. 

“Their participation in the planning and design process ensures that the space is truly designed by students for students,” Huang said. 

The Center for Innovation, a College of Business innovation outreach and engagement program for students, has been reactivated this year and the university’s Office of Economic and Regional Development is managing it, with Lynn Andersen Lindberg as the managing director. 

The center serves as a catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurship on campus and as a gateway to regional innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems, Lindberg said. The center supports transdisciplinary academic and non-academic experiential learning opportunities, links SIU resources with business challenges, supports technology commercialization and serves as a primary university contact for regional industries, businesses and leaders, she said. 

“When the space is open, there will be a variety of activities and displays there including design-thinking workshops, pop-up challenges, sustainable solutions to problems, contests, and student and faculty research exhibits,” Lindberg said. 

The Sustainability Office spearheads campus sustainability efforts under the leadership of Geory Kurtzhals, who became sustainability coordinator in August 2015. In recent months, Kurtzhals and her team of undergraduate and graduate assistants have identified six critical SIU sustainability issues and are creating strategic initiatives in response to each. One of those issues is the need for better campus-wide awareness of sustainability concepts and SIU efforts. The Hub will address that need, spotlighting sustainability and innovation at an easily accessible location where students spend a lot of time, Kurtzhals said.  

The creation of the Sustainability Fellows program is also addressing a critical need, getting students fully involved in green thinking and planning through education and advocacy. There are currently four Sustainability Fellows and all are focusing on one or more projects of particular interest to them that meet university needs. Through the program, students also develop professional skill sets that will help them promote sustainability in any future careers. 

“Sustainability and innovation working together is a perfect pairing,” Kurtzhals said. “We have similar goals. We try to solve problems, connect people and work to make our future a little brighter.” 

The University Innovation Fellows, a program managed by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter), empowers undergraduate students to bring their innovative ideas to life to better society and the economy and several SIU students have been selected for the special Epicenter training. There are currently seven active fellows on campus and they are helping shape the Hub project, making it an inspiring and problem-solving space where they and their fellow students, as well as SIU faculty and staff, can learn, grow, share and innovate. 

“By utilizing University Innovation Fellows, we are able to tap into the creative talent of young adult minds rather than following the traditional approach to space development,” Kyle L. Harfst, economic development executive director, said.