Writer: Billy Huntsman
A team of engineering students at New Mexico State University, working as Aggie Innovators, are actively engaged in promoting technology acceleration across campus. And it’s paying off, with projects receiving more than $367,000 in funding over the past five years.
This accomplishment is, in large part, due to a partnership comprising the College of Engineering Aggie Innovation Space Presented by Intel, NMSU’s Arrowhead Center, and the New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
The Aggie Innovation Space was launched in 2014 by the College of Engineering and led by Patricia A. Sullivan, associate dean for outreach, along with a team of faculty members from engineering, marketing and art. As a maker-space facility, the AIS was designed to foster innovation and entrepreneurship by offering students access to state-of-the-art engineering design software and tools, and provide a physical gathering point where students can connect to work on multidisciplinary projects. Last year, the AIS adopted a unique peer-management model that incorporates a team of on-campus cooperative-education students serving as Aggie Innovators.
“The AIS is a great resource for students to learn about innovation, design tools and how to make functional prototypes,” said Kramer Winingham, director of Arrowhead’s Studio G incubator. “The resources and workshops offered by the AIS are really exciting. Innovation is a key skill for students to learn to position themselves for success in the future—having a space like the AIS to help students develop skills in innovation is outstanding.”
In spring 2016, the AIS expanded their partnership with Arrowhead Center to include NM MEP, with a specific focus on accelerating technology among engineering student capstone projects.
“The AIS technology acceleration process focuses on integrating traditional engineering capstone projects within a college maker-space facility,” said Sullivan. “The developed process features a peer mentorship model for capstone teams that guides them through the engineering design process, supports real-world application, and introduces collaboration within a multidisciplinary open learning environment. Participants in the process have become adept in accelerating technology for application and have gained valuable workplace skills for future personal and professional growth.”
Luis Martinez, a graduate industrial engineering student involved in the AIS serves as a liaison between capstone faculty and Arrowhead Center. Martinez developed the adopted technology acceleration model that incorporates development of prototypes, preliminary test and evaluation, and vetting and validation processes. The vetting/validation stage requires capstone students to seek external validation of their ideas from faculty or “potential clients” of the technology or product being developing. It also allows teams to understand the feasibility of their projects, enhances student soft skills and serves as an initial indicator of opportunities for technology acceleration. Following vetting/validation, students conduct expanded test and evaluation, and then present their final projects to capstone faculty and industry partners. Projects that demonstrate commercial application are invited to further accelerate their technology as a client of Arrowhead’s Studio G student incubator, where they receive additional commercialization guidance and access to external startup funding.
The partnership has paid off with the AIS supporting 42 student projects involving 157 students last year. Of note is the transition of two engineering capstone projects to Arrowhead Center and subsequent funding through the Aggie I-Corps program—a National Science Foundation initiative that leverages university research to create new innovative businesses and increase the economic impact of inventions created at research institutions around the country.
Additional successes include Mechanical Engineering Professor Roy Xu and chemical engineering graduate student Brian Patterson, who joined Studio G in 2015 to further develop bulletproof backpacks for students and more protective helmets for football players. If commercialized, this damage-trap material interface, would be less expensive and more protective than Kevlar. The project received a $50,000 grant from the NSF through the I-Corps program.
“With an ongoing capstone integration project and the outreach activities throughout the university, the AIS has been able to provide consultation assistance and topical expertise to a diverse group of projects ranging from the College of Engineering, the astronomy department and even the animal science department of NMSU,” Martinez said.
“As the number of AIS requests for technology acceleration assistance increases, so does the number of Aggie Innovators available to provide mentorship to students,” said Sullivan. “This fall we added five new co-op based innovators and expect additional innovators to join the AIS in January. These on-campus co-op positions are highly competitive, attracting outstanding engineering student applicants.”