Aggie Innovation Space transitions to on-campus cooperative education program

Writer: Kristen Sullivan

The Aggie Innovation Space at New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering has transitioned from a staff-led space to a student-led on-campus cooperative education opportunity, where student innovators manage themselves and provide technical assistance for their peers.

Man sits at a table and works on a robot.

Aggie Innovator and mechanical engineering technology senior Luis Martinez works on a robot in the Aggie Innovation Space at New Mexico State University. (Courtesy photo)

The NMSU AIS is one of the few maker spaces in the country to implement this model, as most maker spaces employ student innovators but are staff-led. The Aggie Innovation Space and innovators are funded through a grant from the Intel Foundation as a means of expanding innovation within the College of Engineering at NMSU.

“Every student innovator has a different area of expertise,” said Patricia Sullivan, associate dean for outreach and public service. “This type of program mirrors the way industry works.”

Innovators have identified new equipment to expand the facility’s capabilities including additional 3-D printers, Arduino boards and extensive sensors for robotics and communications purposes. In addition, innovators at the AIS have developed new outreach programs, designed to get students involved in innovation at the K-12 level and at NMSU.

“Students love a challenge and this fall the college presented students with the challenge of running the AIS. Dean Sullivan created several co-op positions, which provided students with the opportunity to earn leadership roles and transition the AIS to a ‘by students for students’ model,” said Steven Stochaj, interim dean for the College of Engineering. “I thought that I had a good idea of what our students are capable of, but this group exceeded all of my expectations. It was a joy to watch both their confidence and creativity soar.”

Wyatt Castaneda, a junior in civil engineering and one of the AIS innovators, said that the new model allows innovators to choose their own projects, as well as become a closer team.

“We have to work together to figure out our own problems,” Castaneda said. “We have to use our expertise in certain areas to help our peers with their projects and their problems.”

Luis Martinez, a senior in mechanical engineering technology, said that the transition has required the innovators to take more initiative and has given them the mobility to organize activities depending on the needs of the students and the space. He stated that the new transition allowed the innovators to work in a more realistic environment – one that mimicked the way industry operates.

“This is preparation for when we graduate,” Martinez said. “It allows us to help every student possible. We’re able to do more workshops for student project improvement and provide more accessible help for capstone projects.”

Katrina Heyne, a senior in mechanical engineering, said that she has most enjoyed working with people and interacting with her peers.

“If I can teach it, I can learn it better,” Heyne said. “We know what students want as their peers. Now, we have more project management and we’ve had to take ownership of our own projects.”

The AIS innovators have led several outreach programs such as weekly workshops aimed at NMSU students as well as assisted with Project Lead the Way teacher training, and helped host beginning and advanced robotics summer camps for middle and high school students.

AIS innovators are offered positions for one academic year, which can be renewed. In addition, the innovators participate in a two-day leadership retreat in the spring. There are currently three open positions for the spring 2016 semester and applications can be completed through Aggie Career Manager.

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