The Innovation Plaza is a new initiative spearheaded by the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department at the University of New Mexico (UNM). This program resulted from students at UNM and around the nation clamoring for more opportunities to see the topics presented in their engineering courses reinforced by physical demonstrations in a laboratory. Engineering students are often left to wonder about the “real world” applications of their studies and there are few, if any, opportunities to make connections to other disciplines. The Innovation Plaza project was founded to address these concerns and to grow the educational capabilities at UNM. A dedicated group of students and faculty, in collaboration with National Instruments, Quanser, NanoProfessor, and Xilinx are designing experiments to address the needs of the modern engineering student from various application and disciplinary perspectives.
The idea is to create a program that integrates enhanced curricula and educational outreach with an open, globally connected, interdisciplinary lab for hands-on experiential learning and interdisciplinary collaboration: an Innovation-Plaza (Figure 1). Students from high school and university undergraduate and graduate programs have the opportunity to actively interact and collaborate with industry and research institutions, and ultimately produce world-class, functioning projects as part their Senior Design course. The Innovation-Plaza trains students to become proficient using the tools currently employed in industry and research, and will eventually facilitate long-distance and off-site local and global collaboration with connected satellite laboratories. The Innovation-Plaza is designed to help bridge the gap connecting Math, Physics, Chemistry, and Engineering at a very early stage by linking theory to real world experience. Minimizing this gap early facilitates the learning process of engineering students and increasing creativity and innovation. Getting undergraduate students involved at an early stage in real-world projects and R&D excites them and gives them a sense of ownership, which is expected to positively impact retention rates. Global applications: for more information on how ISTEC members can collaborate with UNM on this project, please email Dr. Ramiro Jordán at firstname.lastname@example.org