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Russ College students, alumnus helped create new space for innovation at OHIO

Pete Shooner | Nov 5, 2018
Voinovich and Stroud in the new space

Russ College students, alumnus helped create new space for innovation at OHIO

Pete Shooner | Nov 5, 2018

Ohio University students studying across disciplines now have a new physical hub for innovation and entrepreneurship on the Athens campus, thanks in part to the tireless efforts of two Russ College students.

CoLab, which opened on Alden Library’s third floor last month, offers students a space to share ideas; hear expert advice; and create projects, products and businesses that will change the world around us. 

“Having the space open is incredible,” said chemical engineering senior Faith Voinovich, who has helped plan the project since her freshman year. “We worked for a long time to make sure CoLab would foster creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, and it's amazing to already see students making the most of the space.”

The multi-functional facility features collaboration, peer mentoring, team meeting, brainstorming, ideation, and product lab space. High-end audio and visual communication capabilities enable students to collaborate virtually with mentors.

The Center for Entrepreneurship, formerly located in Copeland Hall, has moved to the new space, making the center’s faculty expertise and other resources more easily accessible to students from all disciplines.

“The center was always meant to be a resource for anyone on campus,” said College of Business Entrepreneur-in-Residence Paul Mass, center director. “Now that we’re in central space, Paul Benedict, the center’s associate director, and I are having a lot more conversations with diverse students who want to start something – whether that’s a business, a social venture or something new on campus. We’ve spent most of our careers starting and growing companies, so we love coaching students on their ideas.”

In January 2017, the Ohio University Board of Trustees approved support for CoLab, which was first introduced as the C-Suite and later named CoLab through a University-wide contest. A generous donation from trustee and Russ College alumnus David Pidwell, BSEE ’69, MS ’70, and his wife Tina helped finally make the space a reality.

Pidwell emphasized the facility’s potential as a connection point between students and business leaders of all kinds.

“CoLab is a unique facility for students and researchers to use as a gateway to reach out into the commercial business community and explore the virtues of entrepreneurial business development,” he said. “It’s a place on the OHIO campus to connect, communicate and collaborate regarding the creation of new business ventures.”

Voinovich and fellow CoLab leader Drew Stroud, a mechanical engineering senior, became involved when they became Stanford University Innovation Fellows (UIF). Funded by the National Science Foundation, the UIF program connected students, faculty and industry leaders who have an entrepreneurial mindset and inspired the two to join fellow OHIO students – many of whom are also fellows – to create CoLab.

"It’s surreal that the students and faculty who worked so hard to bring CoLab to fruition are now meeting in the space and using it to generate new ideas and creative solutions," Stroud said. "Seeing students using the space for group work, ideas up on the white boards, classes being taught, and new faces every day inspires us to keep working hard to make CoLab the best it can be."

In just its first few weeks, the space is already attracting students eager to use it for a variety of purposes. OHIO sophomore Ed Drabold, who is part of the 2018 UIF cohort, can frequently be found in CoLab, either working on projects like his undergraduate research on algae-based carbon capture or just connecting with fellow students.

“Personally, I love the space. It provides a great space to engage in conversation – as well as present new ideas,” Drabold said, adding that his role in UIF has enabled him to provide input on the future of the CoLab.

Other campus partners include the Office of the President, the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, University Libraries, the College of Business, the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, the Scripps College of Communication, the Office of Instructional Innovation, and the Research Division.

However, CoLab Program Manager Matt Thomson said the credit belongs to the students involved.

“The most exciting thing for me about this space is that it was a student-led project from the beginning,” he said. “Students expressed a need, garnered support from the University and made this happen – such a fun thing to be a part of.”

CoLab is open Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; and Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Extended hours are in the works.