da Vinci Center recognized as top innovative program

Amir Vera
Staff Writer

VCU’s da Vinci Center for Innovation was recently recognized by a report presented to President Obama as one of the 29 best programs to offer a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) degree. It was the only program in Virginia to be included on the list.

The report, “Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education,” was compiled by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). It determined that the da Vinci Center was among the top engineering programs in the nation for not only increasing the number of STEM degree but also for blending them with other concentrations. The list included programs at MIT, Cornell, Duke and the University of Texas at Austin.

“VCU has taken an innovative and holistic approach, blending the STEM disciplines together with business and the humanities,” said Barbara D. Boyan, dean-elect for the
School of Engineering. “This means that our students are not only able to tackle the challenges of our society using STEM skills, but that they can do so in a way that takes real world issues into consideration.”

The report said the development of STEM-related jobs is important because it means more workers will be trained in these fields in the future. The report predicts that by 2018, the number of STEM jobs in America will increase by five percent or 1 million jobs. It is also predicted that of those 1 million jobs, 92 percent will require at least some higher-education training.

The report lists VCU not only because students being trained in STEM areas, but because they’re also being given instruction in non-STEM field to encourage students to be well-rounded and to solve problems by looking at them from a different perspective.

According to Boyan, recognition of this caliber means that more diversity in the program offerings will be encouraged. On a larger scale, knowledge of this kind may bring more companies to cooperate with the da Vinci Center to help students. Currently, groups like the Science Museum of Virginia and Dominion Power work with the program.

Chemical and life science engineering junior Kathleen Barron is a student at the da Vinci Center who appreciates the format of the program. She takes art classes offered through the program that she says help her to solve real-world issues through a different point of view.

“(The da Vinci Center) allows students to see the entire picture of product innovations, not just the engineering aspects,” Barron said. “Students learn the aesthetic importance of design as well as how to market and implement their ideas.”

Barron has already worked on real-world problems like clean energy production, when she was involved with the installation of turbines that use the James River to generate power. She said that she sees the benefits of the da Vinci Center because it challenges students in different fields to work together. Barron has worked with art students on energy initiatives through the VCU Energy Sprint Competition.

“Even though this competition was highly technical, our combined efforts and proposal won first place,” Barron said. “It is proof that da Vinci expands students’ interests in a way that rivals those students whose degrees are based in STEM.”

Achievements like Barron’s are reasons why VCU was recognized in the report. She said the results of this recognition also mean that more students, especially engineers, may apply to the da Vinci Center.

“A question I am commonly asked is if the da Vinci Center is ‘technical enough,’” Barron said. “Now with the recognition of NAE, I can confidently answer ‘yes.’”

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