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Informatics department heads new project

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By Brandon Phillips

Senior Staff Writer

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   The University at Albany’s Informatics Department is creating a new club on campus geared toward technological innovations, with hopes of one day becoming a student lead center for start-up projects.

    The Informatics Department is heading the project called ‘Innovation In Informatics [(In)3].’ to create a space for students to have the resources needed to start their own technological and business pursuits.

   Director Jennifer Goodall is leading the new group with hopes of expanding the diversity and reach of informatics to a broader group of students.

   “ I see (In)3 as a way to attract more diverse students into the areas of technology creation,” Goodall said.

   Professor Jon Muckell, who teaches a Physical Computing course, pulls inspiration from his hands-on class describing how (In)3 works.

   “It comes down to: you got some idea, you want to be actually able to build it without having to go anywhere else, we’ve got everything on hand to actually be able to build it,” Muckell said.

   The idea to create a technology workshop was adopted from a growing movement within tech circles to have a space where people can have access to the technology they need to fuel their ideas and project designs.

   “Myself as well as others in the department have gotten really caught up in this so called ‘Maker Movement,’ and the Maker Movement is all about: you got an idea, here, you’ll have the tools to build it and actually implement it to prototype it. Makerspaces are a kind of reflection of that. It’s a space where you got all the material nearby to take any idea and put it together,” Muckell said.

   The space would be student led and project based, Muckell said, where groups of students can link up and create something.

   Goodall sees this movement as an opportunity to diversify computing and informatics through the (In)3 makerspace.

  “We can do this by making, aka DIY. So you hear about the Maker Movement or the DIY movement—it’s really bringing the power of creation to a wider variety of students. Most of what I do is aimed at increasing the diversity of our programs in the College of Computing and Information because collectively, the computing and technology fields are dominated by white men in this country. But if white men in their 20s and 30s are creating the technology of tomorrow, who are they creating it for? White men in their 20s and 30s. And yet, many many more people use technology. Plus, research has shown that mixed gender teams come up with better ideas and are more efficient,” Goodall said.

   Beth Coco, an entrepreneur at the Technology Transfer Office and education specialist at the Small Business Development Center at UAlbany, says a makerspace is about sparking opportunity.

   “A makerspace is a toolbox to support a community of creators and innovators. Establishing an open space for collaborative learning with new technologies can create a gateway for emerging entrepreneurs,” Coco said in a testimonial on the In3 website.

   Team based learning (T.B.L.) is a growing teaching method employed by a number of informatics professors. It incorporates students working together as a team to accomplish a task or to reach a goal. The makerspace is a combination of people’s efforts coming together to utilize technology to create new things, according to Muckell.

   “You learn from each other, that’s one of the main benefits of the equipment, it’s actually the passion of the people working there. A lot of times, folks haven’t used something like a 3D printer, and there’s a lot of people there who have that can guide you. They’re passionate about getting with and working with you and maybe you have another set of skills that you’re sharing with the team and the people working there. It’s meant to foster creativity, it’s meant to foster community,” Muckell said.

   Caroline Buinicky, Informatics Advisor says that the DIY movement is an opportunity to learn socially.

   “I love having an idea for something and figuring out how to make it work. Of course this is something I can do at home. But, with a makerspace, I can collaborate with other people, making the DIY movement more social,” Buinicky said.

   The project space would include design tools and technology that students can use and take advantage of for free. The goal of the project is to give students whatever they need to create innovative things, Muckell said.

   The Informatics Department has recently chosen to reserve such a space for future innovative student projects, but it won’t be operational for some time. That won’t stop In3 from getting the ball rolling, Muckell said.

   “We have a physical space reserved for this. The space is reserved for the makerspace and come spring, we’re going to have it ready. We are holding events now, we aren’t waiting for our real space to be ready. We are getting people working together and ratcheting up for it because we aren’t just going to drag our feet until when that’s 100 percent ready to go,” Muckell said.

   The group is currently holding events in the form of workshops lead by professors and senior staff in the Informatics Department. The first of which was held on Oct. 17, was lead by Goodall. The theme of the workshop was ‘Social Robotics.’ Muckell says he plans for the reserved space later on to become an open walk in area for students to work on their projects.

   “We want it to be student lead as much as possible, right now we are kind of using the workshops as a kick-off, so the workshops are run by different people in the department, hosting different things. We’re getting to the point where students are getting more involved, and we want to have student leadership take over as much as possible so we can kind of just mentor them and not have to be running everything, and that would be the best way of getting students excited as well,” Muckell said.

  Different themes for upcoming workshops include: a Halloween Theme on Oct. 31, Female Friday on Nov. 7, Saturday Scrap on Nov. 21, and two Tinker Challenges where students will test their creative abilities held on Dec. 5 and 12 respectively. The workshops are held every Friday from 2-5 p.m. in BA349 (the old Business Building).

   “So (in)3 can be a way for students who haven’t considered the creation of technology before. For instance, the Female Friday workshop will feature LED necklaces. You hear more and more about wearable’s or enhanced textiles—this is a place to start,” Goodall said.

   The workshop would show students how to collaborate to create a technology or product.

   “For example, maybe I want to re-create a LED necklace I saw, but I don’t really know how to work with LED lights. I could go to (in)3 and get feedback and ideas from others on how to make it work,” Buinicky said.

   The group is using the themed workshops as a starting point for (In)3, Muckell said.

   “Right now we are guiding through these different workshop themes, but come the spring, it’s gonna be like, ‘you want to build something? You’ve got the tools, we are gonna train you how to work with them. We’ll help pull in whatever you need,’” Muckell said.

   To get as many people as possible involved, Muckell has invited different people and organizations to join in and collaborate with each other. This way, everyone can bring their set of experiences to the table, Muckell said.

   “So it’s going to be a mix. Sometimes, it’s going to be a really organized group of students who know they want to build a particular thing. Sometimes it might be just one person that shows up that wants to use the 3D printer and they get exposed to other people and they get pulled into other projects. Some people might be coming in, and they don’t really want to use the technology, but they want to help work with and identify teams of people, because they want to work on solving some sort of business mean that they’ve identified from being more on the entrepreneurial side. That’s why we are working with the Albany Center for Entrepreneurship. We are working with ACM (UAlbany Association for Computing Machinery), we are working with a new club called The Future Tech Club, and ASIS&T (Association for Information Science and Technology),” Muckell said.

   Grant Seltzer-Richman, sophomore at UAlbany and Co-Founder of The Future Technologies Club, wants to utilize In3’s makerspace as a workspace for collaboration between different groups on campus.

   “We want people from all different backgrounds, because the makerspace isn’t just about technology. We’re working with ACE, the Albany Center for Entrepreneurship and they can turn their ideas into reality using a makerspace because that’s where you have the resources. So you don’t really need a technical background to learn how to use the technology or to collaborate with other people who might know how to use the technology,” Seltzer-Richman said.

   The space would be for both business oriented and technology focused students, Muckell said. That way, groups will be able to utilize everyone’s unique niches.

   “It’s a movement that’s gaining a lot of traction. We want ours, this makerspace to be something that’s open to students from all different backgrounds, and you know, we want to get a really diverse group in there,” Muckell said.

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