Four new high-tech lab spaces were opened in Engineering Building II as part of a ribbon-cutting ceremony presided over by President John C. Hitt on Tuesday.
The lab areas, known collectively as the Maker Space Labs, will provide students access to resources including 3-D printers, laser cutters, electronics tools and more.
"Today, we celebrate yet another notable advancement made possible by UCF's collaboration with industry," Hitt said. "UCF we say stands for opportunity; through these new cutting-edge lab spaces, our engineering students will have more ability than ever to go out into the world and create the innovations, solutions and products that our society needs."
The four new areas are: the Idea Lab, a glass-walled space filled with couches, spinning chairs and tables made of dry-erase whiteboard material; the Texas Instruments Innovation Lab, a red-walled room filled with circuit boards and electronics tools; the Manufacturing Lab, which boasts a suite of laser cutters and 3-D printers; and the Harris Corporation Gathering Lab.
The lab suites are the brainchild of associate professor Robert Hoekstra, the creative director of the Maker Space Labs and a founding member of the Engineering Leadership & Innovation Institute at UCF, which manages the labs. Hoekstra said that he wished to provide students access to environments that would stimulate creativity more readily than classrooms and lecture halls.
"Five years ago, I came out of industry and it was very clear to me that [schools] were training technocrats: They couldn't lead and they couldn't think outside the space of single problems," Hoekstra said. "That's not what industry needs. Industry needs people that can solve problems mathematically, but they also need people that can think outside of the box, outside of normal constraints.
"What is clear from the research is that good ideas come when people are playing, not when they're working hard. We wanted to create a playful space, a place where people could come and just have a ball — out of that will come great ideas."
Hoekstra said that he worked for many years to demonstrate the value of such spaces to administrators. He said that the maker spaces were initially sponsored by UCF Technology Funds, but a grant from Texas Instruments and the Harris Corporation helped bring the idea into reality. Hoekstra said that the four lab spaces represent an investment approaching $1 million.
Matthew Harrison, an Aerospace engineering alumnus and the former president of the Theta Tau engineering fraternity, returned to campus to speak at the induction ceremony. He relayed a story in which he and his team were tasked with building a school project in his garage: Due to a lack of proper tools, the project failed. Harrison said that the labs would provide students with the sort of resources he struggled to acquire while he was attending UCF.
"Not only will students [now] have proper materials, it will be safer from them as well," Harrison said. "They'll have a wider range and scope of what they're capable of doing. Here you've got oscilloscopes, laser cutters and 3-D printers; a lot of this stuff I'd have to have special-ordered when I was a student."
Andrew Hopper, a freshman computer science major, said that he was excited to use the Idea Lab for group projects.
"I think [the Idea Lab] is really cool," Hopper said. "It looks like it's inspired by a lot of other high-concept companies. I'm really just looking forward to having a project to use this [space] for actual brainstorming."