Innovation unleashed: students forge transdisciplinary projects at RIT’s a2ru summit

Innovation unleashed: students forge transdisciplinary projects at RIT’s a2ru summit As a group of students unwinds thread to bind books, another group laser cuts intricate designs in panels of wood. Dozens of students and faculty mentors from nearly 20 universities across the U.S. and Chile experienced the full capabilities of the seven makerspaces inside the SHED, RIT’s new, 209,000-square-foot facility, during the a2ru Emerging Creatives Student Summit March 14-17. Working in teams, students were charged with creating arts-integrative, transdisciplinary projects responding to a theme of “Play.” With the SHED’s abundant stock of technology, resources, materials, and workspaces at their disposal, groups designed prototypes for educational, group-play and mobile games, tactile experiences, a modular playground, interactive installations, and more. “There have been a lot of concepts born here that I can see being patented and used,” said Maryrose Flanigan, executive director of a2ru. Jackson Burns Bulmer ’27 Each year, the a2ru Emerging Creatives Student Summit brings together undergraduate and graduate students representing a myriad of disciplines from across the a2ru network of higher education institutions. RIT hosting in the SHED marked the second time in a2ru summit history there was access to makerspaces, which prompted efficient workflows and innovation while adding sophistication to final designs. Flanigan observed that the SHED’s transparent glass interior — with makerspaces on three different floors — enabled students to treat each as a storefront. They peaked in to browse state-of-the-art equipment and leverage staff expertise. RIT’s newest playground was fully harnessed. “Students conceptualized what they wanted to do by walking around and seeing what was available,” Flanigan said. “Prior to this we had the basic craft supplies. I saw laser printing, digital fabrication, textiles. They’ve been incredibly creative with what’s been provided.” Yohermry Kpodo ’25 (new media design) was on a team with biochemistry, design, education, and marketing students. The group made its play-themed project based on a subtopic of “disrupting norms.” They produced a series of intentionally unconventional, difficult-to-read books as a way to provoke thought and interaction. Kpodo contributed a projection of words and graphics onto a large-format book. Kpodo said it was rewarding to work in a group where learning the disciplinary vocabulary of others was necessary to move ideas forward. “It was a creative challenge because not only are we bringing our skills to the table, but it’s forcing us to connect and communicate in a new fashion,” Kpodo said. Jackson Burns Bulmer ’27 Facilitating the convergence of different areas of study is a core goal of a2ru, which stands for the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities. Faculty and staff from RIT and other institutions were on hand to mentor teams and provide feedback during project development. For Kpodo, who loaded his elective coursework with engineering and film and animation (virtual production) classes, the summit continued his path of interdisciplinary exploration. “It’s alarming to only work and think in a silo,” Kpodo said. “If you become too cemented in your own beliefs it’s going to make it hard to work with other people when you have to. Interacting with people from other groups and areas is enlightening. RIT does give us the place to do that – you can do anything you want with any department.” Elizabeth Lamark Participants and organizers tested out the 15 prototypes during a closing product fair. Among the engaging projects was a party game in which a player discreetly builds an object based on a prompt while other players draw what they believe is being constructed. Sam Burgoyne ’24 BS, ’25 MS (game design and development) said the concept stemmed from his group of four playing games as an icebreaker at the start of the summit. “That’s something we wanted to hone in on when creating our game,” Burgoyne said. “It’s a lot of thinking about how people work and trying to break down some of those barriers.” The game incorporated elements from each of the four student creators: an architect, game designer, music therapist, and UX/UI designer. “With this summit, I was able to learn many different perspectives and approaches on how people from other disciplines think and tackle problems,” Burgoyne said. “It brought me new information on how I will approach games in the future.” Organization and sponsorship The a2ru summit at RIT was organized by Erica Hickey, events and promotions manager, and Kelly Sorensen, marketing communications director, from the College of Art and Design’s marketing department and Todd Jokl, dean of the College of Art and Design. Assistant Professor Keli DiRisio, Professor Susan Lakin, and Assistant Professor David Schnuckel were also on the RIT task force. To gather inspiration and ideas, the students embarked on a field trip to the nearby Strong National Museum of Play, which houses the world’s largest collection of materials related to play. A panel discussion with thought leaders from RIT and the museum kicked off the conference. It consisted of moderator André Hudson, dean of the College of Science, Lisa Feinstein, VP of advancement for the Strong Museum, Shaun Foster, undergraduate program director of 3D digital design, and Catherine Lewis, director of disability services. Participating RIT students and faculty, staff and alumni mentors, as well as sponsorship, were from the College of Art and Design, College of Engineering Technology, College of Health Sciences and Technology, College of Liberal Arts, College of Science, Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences, Golisano Institute for Sustainability, Kate Gleason College of Engineering, Saunders College of Business, and School of Individualized Study. Jackson Burns Bulmer ’27