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Activation of Creation and Innovation: CSU’s New Innovation Lab 

Chicago State University’s Department of Mathematics and Computer Science (MCS) is launching an Innovation Laboratory with grand opening events on April 26th and 27th in the Gwendolyn Brooks Library. CSU is among a small number of Chicago-based universities to establish a center of this nature, and is one of an even smaller number of Innovation Labs on the far South Side.

But, what is an Innovation Lab?

Dr. Rohan Attele, MCS Department Chair, explains: "The main purpose of the Innovation Lab is to invigorate students to be entrepreneurial. The Innovation Lab will provide an opportunity to convert issues into ideas and ideas into enterprises using their academic knowledge. Students can provide innovative solutions employing technology to intractable issues in their communities, thus becoming social entrepreneurs."

The idea behind an Innovation Lab is fairly simple, according to Dr. Anil Mehta, MCS assistant professor. “It is ‘an enabling center’ where an individual student, or a group of students, can feel at ease in sharing their ideas. Students will have opportunities to interact with their peers, faculty, and industry leaders who can help them bring their innovative ideas to fruition.”

Innovation Lab

An Innovation Lab is different from a co-working space, where previously developed ideas are worked out simultaneously. It is also different from an incubator or an accelerator, where people with developed ideas are looking for business, financial, and legal support. An Innovation Lab is a platform for students by students that, through the power of human interaction, provides budding student entrepreneurs a chance to build support networks. The Innovation Lab will guide CSU students, high school students and community members toward the application of their ideas and into entrepreneurship.

"It is scientifically documented that group work significantly improves the innovative thinking of individuals, thus increasing the chances of success of a project. Groups motivate individuals and bring a multitude of perspectives to the table," states Dr. Mehta.

Though the CSU Innovation Lab draws influence from other successful academic models, such as the Harvard Business School, the cultural and financial ecosystems of the South Side require significant structural differences and unique approaches to mentoring.

The Lab will maintain an extensive roster of mentors involving fellow students, entrepreneurs, industry leaders and professors to provide mentorship and guidance to the students of the Innovation Lab. These mentors will provide students guidance and support on ways to adapt their academic studies to more beneficial and useful pursuits for society. Several of these mentors are from national and international institutions working in collaboration with the CSU Innovation Lab. Mentors are essential bridges that connect the entrepreneur mentality with an academic mindset.

Dr. Mehta says, "By being involved in solving a problem so near to their hearts, that is not necessarily trackable, students will have a chance to tap into the infinite potential that an innovative mind can bring, thus making innovators out of our students.”

The hope is that such discussions will help raise the level of conversations on campus, and nurture CSU students to become problem solvers, in addition to skilled professionals.

“One example of a Lab project in progress is ‘Cluster Computing,’ where multiple computers are linked and managed via software to compute in parallel. This process conserves power and can be used for streaming services, such as for CSU Radio or CSU-TV,” adds Dr. Mehta.

Innovation Lab