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What is Innovation Studio?

December 15, 2021
By Vicki Grisanti
Photos Rob Bossi

At NEIA, we believe that in order for a student to flourish, they need to feel a sense of belonging, confidence, and self-love – the whole person needs to be healthy.

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At NEIA, we believe that in order for a student to flourish, they need to feel a sense of belonging, confidence, and self-love – the whole person needs to be healthy. As healthy individuals, our students are able to nurture their creativity. They develop into innovative thinkers who approach complex problems with empathy through human-centered design. This experience unfolds, in part, through students’ time in our Innovation Studio.

NEIA’s Innovation Studio is a cornerstone of our curriculum and the design of our school, central to our fundamental value proposition. The concept of the Innovation Studio is borrowed directly from the MIT Integrated Design & Management program.

How the Innovation Studio Fits In

It’s important to recognize that innovation can’t happen solely in a lab. The Innovation Studio at NEIA is both a construct and a concept to teach human-centered design. Our teachers are working closely together to align content and create interdisciplinary learning. Students are educated across a broad range of content areas and, whenever possible, these traditional subjects such as math, science, humanities, art, and wellbeing come together in Innovation Studio.

The best way to paint a picture is through an example. Imagine students are learning how to calculate the trajectory of a payload in math. In humanities, maybe they’re learning about the politics of 400 BC in Sicily. And in science, perhaps there’s a study of wood – different types of trees and their molecular structures, for example. Seemingly disparate, these topics come together in the Innovation Studio.

There, students might be asked to build a catapult. They might explore a museum or interview a person knowledgeable about the subjects at hand. They’d use their math knowledge about calculating trajectories, and their scientific knowledge about different types of woods to develop the most effective version of a catapult. They build empathy for those living in this time period to understand what necessitated creating a catapult and put themselves in the scene through roleplay.

Suddenly, students understand not only the value of how any one concept works in the real world, but how they work together, and they most likely will never forget it.

Entrepreneurial Thinking

Our approach using human-centered design is just one of the meaningful ways the Innovation Studio impacts a student’s experience at NEIA. The complex problems our students seek to solve in Innovation Studio could result in demonstrating their understanding of a concept, like the catapult example, but their work could just as easily result in a product or a process.

Part of becoming an innovator at NEIA is learning to create things of value that are accessible to others. While the act of prototyping and designing happens in the studio, the real opportunity lies in scaling the impact of the innovation and sharing it with the outside world. Entrepreneurship comes in to take a product, solution or service and get it out to millions of people.

As students continue their path at NEIA, we envision opportunities with local businesses, non-profit organizations, and other partnerships to learn how to scale an innovation by understanding marketing, presentation skills, and mass production techniques, injection modeling, supply chain, fulfillment centers, logistics and shipping.

We envision an experience where students could run a business within the school. Students at NEIA might get summer jobs and internships with businesses, but they might also make their own job for the summer. To make a living as an innovator we must teach entrepreneurship as well. This is the culture and type of thinking we seek to promote as the Innovation Studio evolves.

The Heart of Campus

As a physical space, the Innovation Studio serves as the heart of the NEIA campus. The teachers understand the practice and employ it in their day-to-day work with each other and with their students. In addition, the space itself is comprised of three components:

  • Studio Space: In keeping with what you might see in a design or architecture studio, this area features flat desks with tables and chairs where students can collaborate on teams, think, discuss and assemble. This open and airy space is intended for ideation and offers a location to evaluate work and make adjustments.
  • The Hive: A state-of-the-art makerspace that features all the tools a designer could imagine using to bring their idea to life. Specifically, the Hive offers assorted 3D printers, a laser cutter, vinyl cutters, and every machine tool you can imagine such as band saws and drill presses, and materials to make circuit boards. It’s a very high-tech version of a traditional makerspace. This is where students go to build, experiment, and create.
  • Design Review Area: This is where students pin up their concepts or give presentations about the work they are doing. A critical element of being a persuasive innovator is to learn how to take feedback and give it in a way that produces positive results – both emotionally and in terms of the work.

Why an Innovation Studio?

When we began designing NEIA over a year ago, we used human-centered design to understand user needs. That told us what students wanted from a good school – and what they didn’t like about their current experience (no fun, too much homework, too much time learning about things that don’t matter).

We discovered that those students who are trying to invent, create and make are entrepreneurial in the way they think and quite self-directed. The experiential element that the Innovation Studio brings makes it fun – it provides them an opportunity to put things into practice every day. It also helps develop a deeper synaptic response to the new material, providing very profound learning without students even realizing it’s happening.

What’s more, human-centered design invites students to embrace their ability to be compassionate, loving human beings. The work in the Innovation Studio supports this growth throughout a student’s journey at NEIA. In the Innovation Studio, we are able to adapt our curriculum to the needs of the students, versus forcing students to adapt to what we want to teach. Undergoing the process of human-centered design not only makes learning more meaningful but also more sustainable and compassionate – it’s a mechanism for developing empathy.