Students who are interested in subjects like 3-D printing, glassblowing and welding have the opportunity to attend free “pop-up” courses hosted by the University Innovation Fellows every Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. in the X-Labs in Lakeview Hall.
UIF is composed of 11 students who are dedicated to innovating JMU’s campus, including the way students learn.
The courses are taught by students, professors and members of the community who are experts on certain topics. Professors often offer to teach courses because it gives them a chance to promote topics they are passionate about.
Jeffrey Thelin graduated from JMU with a degree in industrial design this past December and co-taught design thinking, where students learned design principles and used that knowledge to create wallets. The students made prototypes of their designs and presented them to each other.
“The informal teaching style creates an atmosphere of comfort and students are much more open and responsive to questions,” Thelin said. “I felt like everyone was really involved and interested in what we were saying.”
UIF believes that students can come up with the best solutions to problems when people from many different majors work together.
“We noticed needs for more cross-disciplinary collaboration, experiential learning and more innovation-learning opportunities on campus, so we decided to start filling those needs,” Chris Ashley, a junior economics major and 4-VA technology assistant, said.
UIF and JMU X-Labs provide students with machines and tools that they wouldn’t have access to because certain majors don’t offer them or students don’t realize the equipment is there.
Lakeview Hall offers a laser cutter, 3-D printers, soldering equipment and an Oculus head-mounted display, which are goggles that enable the viewer to become immersed in a virtual reality.
The courses aren’t available for class credit and students must register in advance because space is limited.
Last semester’s topics included 3-D printing, laser cutting, LED light building and programming and bio-inspired design, which means using the biological systems in nature to design structures. Since 3-D printing has been the most popular, UIF plans to keep offering courses on that subject.
“3-D printing is a popular topic right now because most students don’t have access to 3-D printers unless they are enrolled in a specific course or major,” Ashley said. “As 3-D printers are becoming more and more practical and useful, more students want access to the resource.”
New topics that will be offered this semester include glassblowing, biohacking, welding and using a CNC router. The biohacking class teaches students about electrophysiological monitoring, a computer system where doctors can determine the structural integrity of the nerves, spinal cord and brain.
Dwight Torculas, a junior philosophy major, took the pop-up course on LED programming. The instructor taught students basic computer code that can manipulate a set of LED lights and led students to websites where they could further their knowledge on their own.
“It really pushed my curiosity in the subject and it additionally gave me a better understanding of computers in general,” Torculas said. “I enjoy how this is an interdisciplinary class and that the students that participate all come from a different school of thought.”
UIF looks for student feedback throughout the semester to gage students’ needs and interests.
“We hope students’ perspectives are expanded, and they learn some new skills and information that interests them,” Ashley said.
Timothy Moore (’15) was a member of UIF when he was a student at JMU. Now he’s an innovation facilitator for the pop-up courses. Moore hopes that students use these courses to find a skill that can help them in a job or internship.
“I’m also hoping students get inspired to invent something that they can either sell or create a business around,” Moore said. “I also hope they just find something they are passionate about.”
Contact Morgan Lynch at Lynchma@dukes.jmu.edu.