The process of turning a creative idea into a marketable innovation is about to get easier, faster and more accessible at the University of Central Florida with the grand opening of four new labs known as Maker Spaces.

UCF President John C. Hitt, Texas Instruments Executive Vice President Brian Crutcher and Harris Corporation Senior Vice President Robert Duffy will unveil the Harris Corporation Gathering Lab, Idea Lab, Texas Instruments Innovation Lab and Manufacturing Lab during a special ceremony today from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Engineering II atrium.

The labs were built with support from Harris Corporation and Texas Instruments and are the latest offerings of the UCF Engineering Leadership and Innovation Institute (eli2).

Located in the Engineering II building on the main campus, the labs offer students a dedicated space to gather and collaborate, generate numerous creative ideas, vet those ideas, then build and fine-tune working prototypes, all in one convenient place that allows for easy movement between labs.

UCF students will benefit from professionally trained advisors who will staff the labs. The advisors will also connect students with industry mentors to help with all aspects of designing, creating and problem-solving. Students will be trained on the high-tech equipment (such as 3D printers and laser cutters) and by doing-so, develop manufacturing skills that are highly desirable to employers.

“We are giving students dedicated creative space and mentoring from professional advisors to build prototypes faster than ever before at UCF,” said Michael Georgiopoulos, dean, UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science. “These four lab spaces send a loud message to our college’s 8,000 students and the world that UCF is serious about the role of creativity in the innovation process, and about providing students as many opportunities as possible to enable professional success.”

Dale Jackson, director of the Texas Instruments Innovation Lab, will be on hand to help students with projects. Before UCF, he ran similar innovation spaces at EA Sports. “Turning an idea into a reality, and even better, a business, will lead to more successes for more students,” he said.

Creativity in Engineering Education

Emphasizing creativity in the academically rigorous engineering curriculum is a unique approach backed by research. Studies have shown that creativity scores for new engineering graduates have dropped significantly in the past 20 years, and have found that engineering students experience burnout from the strict demands of their classes and tend to lose their creative edge and passion for their field.

UCF is the largest producer of engineers and computer science graduates in Florida, and among the largest in the nation.

“UCF excels at producing fundamentally-sound engineers, according to industry,” said Tim Kotnour, industrial engineering professor and director of eli2. “The new dedicated Maker Spaces means that UCF is providing a huge employment pool of skilled engineers who will also possess the creativity, passion and people-skills employers want.”

“Great creative ideas are fueled by collaboration and hands-on learning experiences; experiences that bring those ideas to life. This entire space including the TI Innovation lab will do just that. Texas Instruments is excited to be a part of UCF producing great engineers and future leaders that will change the world for the better,” said Crutcher.

Texas Instruments employs 61UCF graduates, most notably Crutcher, and retired TI Principal Fellow Gene Frantz who both hold UCF electrical engineering degrees.

“Enabling the next generation of UCF engineers to interact and build relationships will teach them the power of collaboration, which is a necessity in today’s fast-paced marketplace. Innovative ideas and creative solutions result more quickly when unique perspectives are shared in collaborative environments such as the Maker Space labs. We can’t wait to see the leaps in Harris’ technology evolution these innovators will make,” said Duffy.

Harris Corporation employs 800 UCF graduates and is among several top industry partners for whom UCF is the number one new graduate workforce source, of any university in the nation.

Earlier this year, UCF was named a Maker University, joining the national maker movement to create inventions that can be successfully taken to market and launch new start-up businesses. The four new Maker Space labs supplement other labs at UCF intended to spur innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship, such as the College of Business Blackstone Launchpad.

About the Maker Space Labs

The four labs are designed for users to move easily from one space to the next.

  • Harris Corporation Gathering Lab – Groups meet and discuss projects in this space, located in the Engineering II Atrium, equipped with round white-board tables designed by UCF faculty.
  • Idea Lab – Users enter this glass-enclosed spaced, located in the Engineering II Atrium, to go through hosted brainstorming exercises, sketch out ideas on the walls and tables and use the idea-generating technology provided.
  • Texas Instruments Innovation Lab – Users bring their ideas to this space, strategically located next to the Idea Lab, to quickly build prototypes with 3D printers, laser cutters, TI components and equipment and other high-tech machines. Materials such as plastic, foam and metal are also available.
  • Manufacturing Lab – Users can build and refine more late-stage prototypes in this space, which includes heavy manufacturing equipment for cutting, bolting, sanding and more.
  • “Our Maker Spaces help students navigate through the back-and-forth process of inventing solutions to problems. After testing a prototype, they can return to the Idea Lab for more ideas and refinements, or they can scrap an idea altogether and start over,” said Bob Hoekstra, eli2 creativity director. “Learning from what fails is how world-changing solutions are born.”