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K-State Today

August 19, 2014

Business, engineering and interior architecture & product design students collaborate in multidisciplinary course

Submitted by Braedon Burgess

Innovation Bootcamp, a multidisciplinary course formed for students in business, interior architecture & product design, and engineering has wrapped up its second year.

The course was started by Chad Jackson, director of the Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship, and Katherine Ankerson, head of the interior architecture & product design department. The opportunity allows students to get experience developing solutions to real problems.

The main goal of the course is to give students the opportunity to work in interdisciplinary teams to research, design and develop an innovative product concept for a niche market. The class includes students from the College of Business Administration and from the interior architecture & product design and the industrial and manufacturing systems engineering departments.

Four professors worked together in a team-teaching environment: Jackson; James Bloodgood, professor of management; David Richter-O'Connell, assistant professor of interior architecture & product design; and Margaret Rys, associate professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering.

"For many students this is the first time they have worked with students from other disciplines," Richter-O'Connell said. "They realize that everyone wants to innovate and conceptualize great and viable products, but that their processes are entirely different. Their professional metrics for success can be different; some are more — or less — comfortable with risk and blue-sky brainstorming and exploration. There are many little 'eureka' moments that we faculty members see during the course where students start to understand each other's professional needs, learn to respect them and learn to support the part of the story they are trying to tell."

This year, students researched the time in life when people begin to experience some of the physical, cognitive and emotional/behavioral/social challenges associated with aging. They then developed a product for this group. Students researched issues and opportunities with this age cohort and quickly discovered a trend: It is less expensive and emotionally more stabilizing to stay living at home as long as possible — or aging in place, sometimes with outside caregiver assistance.

The students developed a refrigerator specifically for aging-in-placers that had increased physical and visual access to food. It would be connected to WiFi, allowing it to display nutritional and cooking tutorials on a control screen. The product also would display reminders for medicine and dietary management. The students designed it to seamlessly replace an old refrigerator in an ergonomically more appropriate package for aging populations.

Students in last year's class worked with a real investor-owner to design and develop an electric bicycle rental system for the K-State campus that included a business plan.

Faculty members say some of the most important benefits of multidisciplinary projects are the collaboration opportunities for students, professors and colleges for creative cross-pollination.

"The students' differences initially cause difficulties within the group," Bloodgood said. "Watching as they work together to overcome those difficulties and turn them into advantages for the team is very rewarding."

The professors also say the course lets them replicate real-world working scenarios that students will soon encounter in their careers.

"The tangible and especially the intangible, skills that students gain from this experience are truly invaluable, and for me, being an integral part of the journey has been extremely rewarding," Rys said.

The colleges and departments plan to continue offering the class demonstrating the effectiveness of working together on innovative solutions and business plans. They hope one day they'll have the option to help the students commercialize some of their projects.