Union’s new Idea Lab helps create a culture of creativity

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When Hristina Milojevic ’15 was dreaming up plans for a space that would foster a culture of creativity by bringing together students from all disciplines, she had one request.

Since opening at the beginning of the academic year, the Idea Lab has attracted dozens of students whjo have collaborated on a diverse mix of projects

Since opening at the beginning of the academic year, the Idea Lab has
attracted dozens of students who have collaborated on a diverse mix of projects

“She kept using the word fun,” said College Librarian Frances Maloy. “And that’s so important for brainstorming, generating ideas and solving problems. Fun is an important element.”

Maloy spoke Wednesday at the official dedication of Union’s Idea Lab, an interdisciplinary project designed to foster innovative thinking.

Located on the lower level of Schaffer Library, the 1,376-square-foot space consists of three meeting rooms and an open area. Whiteboards, flexible furniture and post-its grace the space.

“There are no rules here,” Maloy said. “I don’t police it, I don’t worry about it. I’m intrigued by it, and I’m always amazed by what is going on down here.”

Since opening at the beginning of the academic year, the Idea Lab has attracted dozens of students brimming with energy that have collaborated on a diverse mix of unique projects.

“This whole space fits into our concept of Union being historic and innovative,” said Therese McCarty, the Stephen J. and Diane K. Ciesinski Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Despite its physical location in the basement of the library, McCarty said the space is in the center of campus, and fits in with the College’s original design of creating areas that bring people together.

“It’s a place where people run into each other and share great ideas,” McCarty said. “Surely the things that students create will be on the shelves here, but also in other forms of media the library supports.”

That’s exactly what Milojevic envisioned a couple of years ago.

A mechanical engineering major, Milojevic became Union’s first University Innovation Fellow in 2014. A highly-selective program, it’s designed to help foster entrepreneurship and innovation among students nationwide.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University, the program empowers student leaders to increase campus engagement with entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity, design thinking and venture creation.

Sean Farrell ’17 was named a University Innovation Fellow last year. When Milojevic graduated, he continued her project.

“I hope many generations of students and their peers will continue to expand upon the concept of the Idea Lab and use it for class projects, after-class discussions and a place for inspiration,” said Milojevic via Skype from her native Serbia. She is on break from her graduate studies at the University of Southern California.

The formal dedication of the lab coincided with the pinning ceremony for Union’s latest group of University Innovation Fellows.

Wendy Sternberg, dean of academic departments and programs, presided over a ceremony in which Farrell presented the newest Fellows with their pins. They are:

Luke McCaffrey ’18, a bioengineering major from Baldwinsville, N.Y.; Lakhena Leang ’18, a biochemistry major from DeKalb, Ill; Arielle Singer ’18, an Organizing Theme major (Marketing Engineering Products) from Culver City, Calif; Robert Barsamian ’17, an Organizing Theme major (Entrepreneurship) from Newton, Mass.; and Vera Marsova ’18, a bioengineering major from Vologda, Russia.

In addition to Sternberg, the students are supported by faculty sponsors Shane Cotter, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Hal Fried, the David L. '39 and Beverly B. Yunich Professor of Business Ethics; and Erika Nelson, associate professor of German.