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Newsweek lauds OHIO's national leadership in experiential learning, benefitting the community

Published: December 17, 2021 Author: Staff reports

At Ohio University, students have numerous opportunities to learn by doing. Those key experiences have been highlighted by Newsweek in their Best Maker Schools 2021 list.

“Ohio University prides itself in a high-quality experiential learning environment for our students, and we are honored to receive this national recognition for our work,” Ohio University President Hugh Sherman said. “Graduates leave OHIO with more than a degree. They gain experience, make important connections and learn essential skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in the 21st Century workplace.” 

Newsweek partnered with Make:, publisher of Make: magazine and books to find The Best Maker Schools in Higher Education. It recognizes institutions that encourage learning-by-doing and collaborative problem-solving, as well as those that have well-developed makerspaces, labs and studios and that support diverse, interactive communities.

OHIO is home to various innovative, collaborative and creative outlets for students.

One example of this is the OHIO Honors Program, which gives students from all majors opportunities to apply their knowledge outside of the classroom. The program offers three different pathways for students to focus on: Community Engagement, Leadership, or Research and Creative Activity.

The Research and Creative Activity pathway encourages students to consider the various ways to collect information, make sense of it, and then share it in meaningful ways. This provides students with opportunities to work in a laboratory, conduct research based on interviews or focus groups, or develop an exhibition or performance based on personal stories collected by the researchers.

The OHIO Honors program fully launched in 2019 and has proven to be very successful. Nearly eight percent of all undergraduate students on the Athens Campus are now engaged in OHIO Honors, and the program is being expanded to regional campuses, too.

Another example is the CoLab, which officially opened in 2018 and updated in 2020 to provide a central hub for all students to grow in innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. The makerspace is located on the third floor of the Alden Library and is open to all students, regardless of major.

Venture Cafe in the CoLab
The Venture Cafe in the CoLab in April 2019. - Alexandria Skowronski

In the CoLab, students have access to a 3D printing area, a fabric textile area, a vinyl/papercutting section, a computer numerical control router, a computer-controlled cutting machine, and various other hand tools and equipment.

“CoLab’s very existence is a testament to our commitment to students’ learning by doing,” Paul Benedict, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, said. “The idea itself came from groups of students who we sent through Stanford’s University Innovation Fellows program. The students came up with the idea, rallied faculty, staff and donors, worked on the design, and saw the project through to its completion. Students got it done.”

Student entrepreneurs can reserve space in CoLab to work on their businesses. The Center for Entrepreneurship’s student-run Bobcat Seed Fund awards grants of up to $3,000 to student entrepreneurs to fuel their growth. The Bobcat Seed Fund has awarded more than $30,000 in grants to 13 student entrepreneurs in less than three years.

“It’s extremely gratifying to see both the recipients of seed fund grants and the students making the decisions about the awards go on to great success early in their careers,” Benedict said. “Our work is making an impact in these students’ lives and we’re just getting started.”

In the Scripps College of Communication, the Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab has over 6,000 square feet of research and development space and is an innovative and creative center for OHIO students, faculty and staff.

The GRID Lab allows students to research and develop projects in virtual, augmented and mixed reality experiences and technology, by providing a motion capture facility, virtual reality computer lab, immersive audio suite, cine-VR suite, and a virtual reality obstacle course. Recently, OHIO ranked first in the state for Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) programs by Animation Career Review.

Fourth-year student Jake Haire, who is double-majoring in integrated media and marketing, said the GRID Lab’s opportunities have already helped him build a strong resume and do things that most students don’t get the chance to do.

“What they offer, which is unlike any other resource or facility in the state, if not the country, is the extensive program they have toward these newer technologies that haven’t been exactly mainstream yet,” Haire said. “They’re very open to experimentation and pushing boundaries. It’s not written down in books yet; if anything, we’re writing it down in books. We’re laying the groundwork.”

Haire said he’s worked on making films with 360 cameras, using computer-generated images, and using software more often used for gaming – methods that are becoming more popular in the making of feature films and television.

“We’re students and we’re making CGI films,” Haire said. “That, to me, is that freedom to have control over the content that you’re producing and there’s no limit regarding budget or whatever, because if you want to create anything your mind comes to, you can do it through this engine.”

Haire also noted his ability to work on projects that span far beyond the entertainment industry, including medical projects, the military, education and the public sector.

“The GRID Lab is proud of its multidisciplinary approach to creating unique game and virtual reality experiences,” John Bowditch, director of the GRID Lab and associate professor in the J. Warren McClure School of Emerging Communication Technologies, said. “Over the past four years, the GRID Lab has partnered with faculty from every college at Ohio University. We employ 25+ students, primarily undergraduate, every semester to work on our funded research projects. We have received over $6.5 million in grants and contracts since our founding in 2005. This is one of the best experiential learning opportunities at the University.”

Internships, study away opportunities, and research and creative activity programs also provide experiential learning opportunities for OHIO students.

Ohio University advisors assist students in finding internships related to their majors, providing students with essential learning opportunities and real-world experience.

And through study away programs such as the OHIO In LA program, students gain an intensive experience living and working in Hollywood’s media and creative industries.

Students in all majors also have opportunities to take part in research and creative activity work, and then showcase their work in the annual Student Expo.

This fall, Ohio University also opened The ACE, which is designed to align resources in order to best support students in academic advising, career achievement and experiential learning.

All of OHIO’s innovative and accessible workspaces, creative collaboration efforts, and valuable studios and labs provide students the opportunity to learn by doing and be equipped with the skills that will help them land jobs in today’s landscape.