Science and Technology

Drones, pop up classes and more: Fall 2015 innovation update


by Eric Gorton

 

Students in background discussing drone in the foreground on a display that looks like a riverbed.


Students build drones to solve real problems

What sorts of skills would be necessary on a team charged with improving the safety of detecting and disabling landmines? How about monitoring and improving air quality? Or saving an endangered aquatic species? And what if the team had to use drones to meet its goals?

Biologists? Engineers? Industrial designers? Physicists? Writers?

In an innovative class called the JMU Drones Project, six teams of students representing disciplines from the humanities to the sciences worked this fall on addressing those problems and more — and each team came up with a prototype solution that uses a drone.

When asked about what they learned during a presentation of their projects, the students echoed the theme of working together with students from other disciplines and discovering their various approaches to problem solving. They also experienced and adjusted to differences in the ways students from different disciplines communicate.

The teams worked on their projects in the new X Lab at Lakeview Hall, the former WVPT television studio on the shore of Newman Lake at the Port Republic Road entrance to campus. The lab, one of four X Labs on campus, is equipped with a variety of shop equipment, including soldering tools, a laser cutter, a vinyl cutter and welding tools. It also has 3D printers and telepresence robots that enable instructors from remote locations to interact with students in the lab.

The Drones Project experience was equally enlightening for the faculty who also came from different backgrounds. Adding to the teaching mix were engineers and entrepreneurs from a private maker space in Northern Virginia who taught the class remotely via the telepresence robots.



Pop up classes take on topics from glass blowing to Excel

Logo from flier advertising pop up classesAn initiative developed by a group of University Innovation Fellows — pop up classes — will continue in the spring, said Timothy Moore, a fellow and an interior design major who will graduate Saturday. Following graduation, Moore will be staying at JMU to help facilitate the pop up classes.

Some new subjects this upcoming semester include glass blowing, welding and Microsoft Excel for Start-Ups, he said. "In addition to those, we will be continuing to offer classes on 3D printing, LED programming, computer coding, human-centered-design, bio-inspired design, laser cutting and vinyl cutting. We think it's going to be just as awesome as it was this semester."


Innovation fellows challenge peers and community to create

innovation fellows logo - black lettering on white backgroundJMU's latest group of University Innovation Fellows is working on promoting innovation and entrepreneurship among students in all disciplines through a number of projects.

The fellows had to be chosen for the UIF Program, an initiative of Epicenter, the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation, which is based at Stanford University and funded by the National Science Foundation and VentureWell.

This year's fellows are Mark Castro, a sophomore engineering major; Nahom Fissaha, a sophomore engineering major; Greg Mayo, a sophomore engineering major; Ryan Ohneiser, a senior psychology major; Daniel Phonelath, a junior psychology major; and Jared Michael Zurn, a sophomore engineering major.

Their strategies for promoting innovation and entrepreneurship involve:

  • Holding events and creating courses that foster innovation, collaboration, creativity and entrepreneurship among students and community members with backgrounds in diverse disciplines.
  • Establishing an entity on campus where students with creative ideas can have the resources they need to test, launch and grow businesses.
  • Providing opportunities for students to learn about entrepreneurship and to recognize their potential to become entrepreneurs early on in their college careers.
  • Creating a culture on campus that elevates JMU's national visibility in innovation and entrepreneurship in order to attract the most talented entrepreneurially minded faculty and students.
  • Providing opportunities for students to engage in entrepreneurship and innovation with local and regional communities beyond campus.

More details about their plans can be found on their blog.


Finding power in partnership

4-VA at JMU logo - gold lettering on black backgroundFunding and lab space for many of the innovation efforts are being provided by 4-VA at JMU. A collaborative partnership between five Virginia universities, 4-VA's mission is to promote inter-university collaborations that leverage the strengths of each partner university in order to accomplish much more than any individual university could achieve alone.

Located at Lakeview Hall, 4-VA at JMU also is involved in sponsoring the University Innovation Fellows and has assisted the fellows efforts by providing funding; lab and classroom space; and connections to collaborators and other resources at JMU and off campus.

Published: Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Last Updated: Wednesday, June 7, 2017

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