In today’s day and age, we live in a world of constant change, advancement and opportunity. The field of science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM, has produced an ever-growing workforce, increasing 20% between 2011 and 2021. As an educational institution, the University of Connecticut has an obligation to ensure that each student has the ability to explore this constantly expanding field. As an initiative, UConn has been hugely successful at this promotion through the UConn Innovation Zone.
The Innovation Zone has three different parts: the Emerging Tech Center, the Recording & Editing Studio and the Makerspace. All of these areas are completely free for all UConn students and grant access to a variety of equipment such as 3D printers, a CNC machine, a laser cutter, sewing machines and much more. There are also maker specialists in the area who are there to provide basic training. The space does more than accept walk-ins; additionally, they hold workshops for UNIV classes and host skillshares where students can learn more about certain topics such as 3D modeling or sewing basics. Many students come to the space to work on projects. Overall, the Innovation Zone serves as a vital introduction to real-world STEM concepts, which helps students explore their interests in the topic and develop important real-world skills.
In 2016, Werth Tower was built, and that year also marked the creation and opening of the Innovation Zone. This campus resource has skyrocketed in popularity over the years and is extremely valuable for providing students with the resources to supplement their education through skill development. The Innovation Zone provides students “the necessary materials, equipment and guidance [and] creates an environment where UConn students can bring their ideas from conception to reality.” However, the Innovation Zone provides so much more than a space for students to simply make something. It provides a gateway into exploring the valuable skills of the 21st century that guide student success.
The space not only provides a valuable resource to campus, but unlike other campus resources, it’s a resource that a lot of students use. In the 2022-2023 academic year, the space had 2,382 unique sign-ins, which is an impressive chunk of the Storrs student population. The total number of sign-ins last year was seven times the amount from the first year, showing incredible growth in the Zone’s usage. Many of these sign-ins are first-year students, a demonstration of the Innovation Zone’s ability to promote itself and introduce students to making early in their college careers. This information is from “IZone 2022-2023 Year In Review” delivered via communications with student managers of the Innovation Zone.
The most phenomenal impact of the Makerspace is its ability to prepare students for the real world. There is a clear difference between theory and practice, and while classes serve as an excellent foundation for knowledge that students need to be successful, the Innovation Zone is a fantastic supplemental resource for students to practice the skills they’ll actually use. CNCs, CAD software, and 3D modeling and printing are some of the technologies at the forefront of the STEM industry, and all of them are accessible to students through the Innovation Zone. This allows students to become familiar with career skills and find the right path for themselves. It also presents an awesome opportunity for students to become proficient in skills that can one day help them succeed in their prospective careers. More importantly, these skills are a part of a growing field and are becoming more and more valuable in society. The Innovation Zone quite simply takes career readiness to the next level and helps students leave UConn with not just a degree, but also the skills needed to thrive.
Even if students don’t want to enter the STEM skills, the Innovation Zone still has many benefits. There are a number of skills that can be learned that are needed in everyday contexts, not just for a career. For example, sewing is something that everyone should know how to do. This program is just one example of how the Innovation Zone is valuable for all students, not just a niche. This model is impressive because it allows STEM students to add depth to their expertise and provides breadth for those who just want to learn cool everyday skills.
Overall, the UConn Innovation Zone adds a tremendous amount of value to our campus and is a space that a lot of students benefit greatly from. Every student on campus would gain from taking a trip to the Innovation Zone and checking out this valuable resource.