In a hiring environment where college graduates are expected to possess honed skills for even entry-level positions, a state-of-the-art innovation studio in the heart of Kansas City allows students access to technology to actually build products within their chosen professions.
“We have never had a facility like this — with the diversity of equipment and the availability to get involved,” said Christina Davis, director for the School of Computing and Engineering at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “Anyone walking through the building can see exactly what research is being done. And to invite students to participate and collaborate, that is what makes this building special.”
The Innovation Studio — located on the second floor of the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise and Research Center — includes a fabrication shop, augmented and virtual reality technology, 3D printing lab, research labs and student spaces.
First announced in 2017, the $32 million research center has been years in the planning — with the augmented and virtual reality equipment valued at $3 million alone. It opened in fall 2020, but the ongoing pandemic delayed a big public reveal.
“It’s something that we’ve been excited about for a long time,” Davis shared.
The university is celebrating the research center with a community open house 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 1. Students, entrepreneurs and community members are invited to tour the facility and learn about its advanced technology.
Click here to learn more about the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise and Research Center.
“The grand opening is like our formal ribbon cutting ceremony,” noted Davis. “It doesn’t change anything about the facility, but we wanted to acknowledge all of the charitable gifts and donations that came to make this building possible.”
The Innovation Studio includes usable lab and research facilities, emphasized Michael Eichenseer, who serves as a AR/VR coordinator and instructor at UMKC. He and Davis envision the space as an opportunity for students and entrepreneurs to share conversations and spark collaborations.
“We have already talked with some local companies at our open houses,” Eichenseer said. “For example, we’ve talked with a couple architectural firms — one that we are doing projects with because we have some equipment they don’t have. There’s also the possibility to get students involved, which excites us.”
Whether or not the facilities at UMKC are the best fit for a business, Eichenseer encouraged entrepreneurs to reach out.
“Even if they are not going to work here, we want to be a connection space for innovators in the area,” he said. “There’s been companies that have come in, tried some of the equipment, then we’ve had a conversation and let them know that it may make sense to partner with this other [studio space]. We are still learning how we’re going to be interfacing with the community, and we want to keep learning how to establish these relationships.”
Although the Innovation Studio is within UMKC’s School of Computing and Engineering, all students are welcome to check out the facility and get connected based on their needs, Davis and Eichenseer said.
“We do have a strong relationship with the Bloch School of Management,” Davis said. “They run several entrepreneurial programs, and we frequently have requests for their students to interface with our Innovation Studio.”
“I recently spoke with a student at the Bloch school who is developing a product,” Eichenseer added. “She came in asking about a 3D printing for prototyping, and then got her connected with Brian [Kanoy, the fabrication studio manager] to schedule a time to use the equipment.
“I’ve also had students who aren’t able to take my courses but are interested in developing for VR,” he continued. “I can get them access to that equipment, give them a headset to borrow and let them develop on that.”
As the world continues to innovate and technology advances, the duo sees limitless possibilities for the Innovation Studio, they shared.
To get in touch with the Innovation Studio, email email@example.com.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.