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Innovation Sandbox: Examining the Impact of Interdisciplinary Innovation Spaces on Diverse Disciplines

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division Technical Session 6

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

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Paper Authors


Thomas M. Katona California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo

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Thomas Katona is an Assistant Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly). He works in the BioMedical Engineering Department and has a joint appointment in the Orfalea College of Business. Before joining Cal Poly, he worked in startup companies in the LED and LED lighting industry. His roles in industry included leading product development teams, business development, and marketing.

He received a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from UC Santa Barbara, studying with the inventor of the blue and white LED, and an MBA from the University of South Carolina, Moore School of Business.

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Jonathan L. York California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo

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Jonathan York is associate professor of entrepreneurship in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where he also serves as the Academic Director of the Cal Poly Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship which he co-founded in 2009. He joined the faculty at Cal Poly after a long career in the private sector. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, and a PhD in psychology from Michigan State, and after many years as a CEO in the health care industry, he started his entrepreneurial career in the mid-90s when he founded an internet software company. He has since been involved in entrepreneurial ventures through the founding of several other software companies, as an angel investor and as managing partner in a venture capital firm. He has also served on numerous corporate, startup, and civic boards.

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Robert S. Crockett California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo

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Robert Crockett received his Ph.D. from University of Arizona in Materials Science and Engineering. He holds an M.B.A. from Pepperdine University and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from University of California, Berkeley. He is currently Professor and Director of the General Engineering Program at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Dr. Crockett is a specialist in technology development and commercialization of advanced materials and manufacturing processes. Prior to joining Cal Poly, he was founder and President of Xeragen, Inc., a San Luis Obispo-based biotechnology startup company. In addition to his academic work in Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Dr. Crockett is currently involved in 4 technology-based startup companies.

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Innovation Sandbox is a physical and programmatic environment where students of all academic levels and majors across campus can come together to explore and develop their early-stage ideas. The goal is to stimulate creative play outside the traditional academic environment through a mix of formal and informal engagement. This space allows innovations from quick drop-in low resolution prototypes, to projects that are allowed to progress beyond the duration of a single classroom project or exercise. Decoupling innovation from a particular course or department into a true separated space increases student’s ownership and accountability for the projects and is intended to facilitate great interdisciplinary interaction. Content is driven by participants and facilitated by student mentors who ensure that there is a low barrier to entry, assist with simple fabrication, facilitate connections with faculty and other campus resources, and provide design input to program participants. Like many campus Innovation and Maker Spaces, students from the College of Engineering were both early adopters and became the initial leaders and regular attenders. As the program expands both its scope and its reach throughout campus, students from the different colleges are getting more involved and are utilizing the resources of the program for an increasingly diverse set of projects. This technically grounded disciplinary diversity provides the atmosphere for creative collisions that do not typically occur in traditional curricular activities. While the promise and popularity of university innovation spaces is not argued, assessment of the objectives and outcomes of these programs has not been extensively studied. Not only is it difficult to perform assessment on voluntary, sporadic, and organic programs, but the disciplinary diversity also adds to the complexity of this task. This assessment, however, is of paramount importance for innovation spaces like the Sandbox to continue to justify the financial resources required to both build and maintain them. In this paper, we examine self-study methodologies that are commonly used for curricular accreditation in diverse disciplinary fields and apply these to the programming in the Innovation Sandbox. This builds on previous work we have done specifically using this methodology to examine the Sandbox programming and its support of ABET accreditation. Initial results on the contribution of the Innovation Sandbox to curricular objectives for a diverse set of disciplines are reported with an attempt to provide a curricular framework for this decidedly non-curricular program.

Katona, T. M., & York, J. L., & Crockett, R. S. (2016, June), Innovation Sandbox: Examining the Impact of Interdisciplinary Innovation Spaces on Diverse Disciplines Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25704

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