This new academic quad that is included in the Boldly Elon strategic plan will seamlessly blend science and technology studies with the arts and humanities.
Imagine an academic quad where students and mentors collaborate on cutting-edge thinking, science, design and technology. A flexible space where students apply entrepreneurial thinking, develop innovative designs and seek solutions to real-world problems.
Soon this place will become a reality as Elon prepares to break ground on a new building complex, the Innovation Quad, a unique center for learning, creativity, research, discovery and design that will fuel big ideas needed to answer the extraordinary challenges facing our world. Construction of the first two buildings in the complex on North O’Kelly Avenue is scheduled to begin in the fall. The joined buildings will be located between Dalton L. McMichael Science Center and Richard W. Sankey Hall, drawing a line from Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, to the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business. The IQ, as it’s called for short, will also serve as the home for Elon’s growing engineering program, as well as the Department of Physics and other programs.
It’s not a coincidence that the announcement of the project came as the university prepared to launch Boldly Elon, a new strategic plan that will guide Elon’s growth in the next decade. “As we seek to continue to advance Elon’s leadership in the arts and sciences, it is only natural to invest in advancing a mission-centered approach to engineering education,” says President Connie Ledoux Book. “This priority is part of the university’s next strategic plan and reflects an even deeper investment in preparing our graduates to successfully navigate and address complex global issues for the common good.”
A natural next step
While Elon has offered foundational science and math courses since its founding in 1889, it wasn’t until McMichael Science Center opened in 1998 that science-related undergraduate research exponentially grew on campus, placing the institution on the path toward becoming a national university. In the latest U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” list of national universities, Elon ranks No. 84 among the nation’s most prestigious universities, with special recognition for undergraduate teaching, undergraduate research and innovation, to name a few.
The Innovation Quad aims to take these experiential learning practices to a new level. “We know employers are looking for problem solvers,” says John Ring, director of engineering outreach at Elon. He adds research shows corporate leaders across sectors increasingly emphasize the need for workers who can navigate unpredictable and ambiguous challenges that require critical thinking skills, which are the foundation of a liberal arts education. “Given Elon’s mission to provide a transformative undergraduate experience, we have an incredible opportunity to exceed past achievements and take our engineering program even further.”
Since McMichael Science Center opened, 10 new degree programs have been created, including six dual-degree options in engineering. In addition to growth in new degree programs over the past two decades, enrollment in STEM-related fields — science, technology, engineering, mathematics — has also increased. With the launch of Elon’s four-year degree program in engineering in fall 2018, Elon welcomed an incoming cohort double the size of those in the past, and the momentum continues to build. This growth has put a strain on McMichael, which is operating over capacity and is no longer able to keep pace with current needs or any future growth.
With a combined 60,000 square feet, the first two buildings in the complex — IQ One and IQ Two — are the heart of the complex and lay the foundation for a more robust STEM presence on campus. They also make room for much needed renovations to McMichael Science Center and the development of new cross-disciplinary programs. Efforts are already underway to gain accreditation from ABET, the agency that accredits programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology. The goal is to establish a School of Engineering as part of the new strategic plan.
“Having a specially designed facility for students to do hands-on work that models the work of practicing engineers will be important as the program develops and enrollment expands.”
The buildings include space for classrooms, labs, offices, engagement spaces and workshops built to generate learning, research, invention and collaboration, while also allowing for assembling and testing prototypes outdoors. These flexible spaces are perfect for students taking courses designed around the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges. Elon’s engineering program uses these 14 challenges as springboards for yearly project-based design courses built on team problem-solving and a series of projects that develop the tangible and intangible skills engineers need in today’s world.
“We are very intentional about having design experiences for engineering students every year,” says Associate Professor of Engineering Sirena Hargrove-Leak, who directs the four-year engineering program. “Many other programs have an entry-level course and a senior-year capstone. We keep design front and center.”
Take the Engineering Design for Service course, which Hargrove-Leak teaches. The course provides second-year students the chance to tackle real-world design challenges and produce solutions that can have a positive impact on the broader community by partnering with organizations in the region. “Engineers inherently serve people,” Hargrove-Leak says. “Having a specially designed facility for students to do hands-on work that models the work of practicing engineers will be important as the program develops and enrollment expands.”
A place for everyone
While IQ One and IQ Two will enhance experiences for students in STEM fields, the complex will also create many opportunities for interdisciplinary work. Ring points to the existing biomedical and computing concentrations within the engineering program and their potential for undergraduate research and collaborations with other science fields, along with medical and business applications.
“There is space for the whole university to develop in this quad,” says Gabie Smith, dean of Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences. The Innovation Quad, she adds, will provide opportunities for new cross-disciplinary centers and ongoing projects and partnerships that address a variety of topics. It will provide space for faculty across the institution to collaborate on inquiry-based research and teaching.
For example, Smith points to work related to access to clean water around the world, which is one of the Grand Challenges. Addressing this challenge, and many others facing humanity, transcends STEM fields. Other disciplines can bring important perspectives and questions. “Think about the cultural and religious meanings of water,” she says. “We’ll have the opportunity to pull together faculty to tackle complex problems. At the same time, we’re modeling the power of collaboration for students. So, it’s a faculty development space as well as a learning space.”
“The Innovation Quad is the entry point to the future of Elon. This is the beginning of the next Elon. And that’s not just my Elon: It’s the Elon for future students and future faculty and staff.”
For Eduardo Gonzalez ’21, an engineering major minoring in entrepreneurship, spaces that encourage collaboration, design and creativity offer the perfect scenario for success. “It’s one thing to learn in a classroom and another to design and create in an incubator,” he says. “It’s a more effective way to become an engineer.”
Martin Kamela, associate professor of physics and chair of the physics department, agrees. “There is great synergy when parallel ideas of innovation come together — innovations from business, marketing and entrepreneurship; innovations from the arts and sciences; innovation from makers and thinkers,” he says. “Bringing those players from across disciplines to create something greater than the sum of the individuals — that’s what successful startups have in common.”
A look ahead
As excited as Smith is for the first phase of the Innovation Quad, she is already envisioning the impact the whole complex will have on the entire campus. “Geographically, the IQ re-centers energy on campus,” she says. “While extending the liberal arts’ footprint on campus, the Innovation Quad becomes an inner campus that draws all community members into the center.”
Future phases of the IQ are to include student housing, entrepreneurial incubators and sites for cross-disciplinary instruction and learning that will include all disciplines. The complex will also offer new space for community gatherings and allow Elon to invite the broader community into the heart of campus. “It will spark creative synergy and collaboration, and offer ways to extend collaboration,” Smith says. “I have a vision of it: I see these sparks, these relationships that can develop, and that’s really powerful.”
The scope of the complex is ambitious and will require a multifaceted and entrepreneurial approach to fundraising. The cost of building IQ One and IQ Two is estimated to be $50 million. “The IQ is a key priority of our Elon LEADS Campaign,” says Jim Piatt, vice president for advancement. “It represents a major commitment to Elon’s students and faculty while lifting the university’s profile as a guiding light in science and technology studies blended with the arts and humanities. In order to make this vision a reality, we will need philanthropic partnerships with inspired donors.”
The investment will be worth it. “The Innovation Quad is the entry point to the future of Elon,” says Smith. “This is the beginning of the next Elon. And that’s not just my Elon: It’s the Elon for future students and future faculty and staff.”
IQ One: Prefabrication, workshops and design and learning spaces
This 20,000-square-foot building will face the Koenigsberger Learning Center. It is designed to make engineering principles visible, where students and faculty transform big ideas into prototypes. This two-story workshop, prefabrication and design hub will be essential to the development of Elon’s engineering curriculum, featuring large and open workspaces. It will include:
- A working environment where students will have access to advanced engineering equipment
- A design lab for upper-level engineering courses
- Dynamic space for prototyping and testing
- Advanced prototyping
- Astrophysics lab
- Virtual reality classroom
- Prefabrication labs outfitted with the tools for students to turn designs into wood, metal or plastic prototypes
- A first-floor design lab, mechatronics classroom and two-story assembly space emphasizing project-based, hands-on learning and building
- Student engagement spaces, where innovation starts
- LEED certification with a green roof and water reclamation area
IQ Two: Classrooms and labs focusing on discovery and design
This 40,000-square-foot, three-story facility will be the home for cutting-edge, cross-disciplinary studies, equipment and research in biomedicine, computer science, physics and robotics. It will allow engineering and physics to relocate from the
Dalton L. McMichael Science Center, which will then undergo extensive renovations. It will face McMichael Science Center on one side and Richard W. Sankey Hall on the other, solidifying the connection of arts and science to entrepreneurship, sales, design thinking and analytics. It will feature classroom and laboratory spaces, including:
- Open lab for core engineering coursework
- A senior design lab for physics
- Biomedical and environmental engineering labs
- Physics classrooms/labs
- Biomedical engineering/biophysics classroom
- Materials engineering lab
- Conference area for larger meetings
- Student engagement spaces
- Group study rooms
- Accessible faculty office suites with collaboration areas on all three floors