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Jennifer and Van Isley join East Carolina University Provost Robin Coger at the opening of the Isley Innovation Hub. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)
East Carolina University officials cut the ribbon Thursday on a new space made for bringing people on campus together to brainstorm ideas and solve problems.
The Isley Innovation Hub has transformed the former university bookstore in the Wright Building into a multi-use, 15,000-square-foot area for entrepreneurial-minded students, faculty and staff to ideate, collaborate and create ideas and products. "Mark my words: amazing things will happen in this space in the next five years,"
said Mike Harris, interim dean of the College of Business.
In addition to open space, the hub offers a One Button Studio to record high-quality videos, a technology lab with software for design and testing, the Wornom Makerspace, 3D printers and scanners, an automated cutting machine, power and hand tools, and a sewing machine for hands-on idea experimentation.
The innovation hub builds on the success of the college's Miller School of Entrepreneurship, the first named school of entrepreneurship in North Carolina.
Eleven new businesses have been created since the Miller School opened, said Van Isley, ECU Board of Trustees member who with his wife Jennifer provided funding for the innovation hub. "We don't necessarily need home runs; a few base hits can make a big difference,"
Isley thanked Stan Eakin, former dean of the business school; Jim Westmoreland, former College of Business administrator; ECU alumnus and trustee Fielding Miller; and Harris for their focused efforts over several years to make the space a reality.
"At Isley, we're about action,"
Harris said. "In here, we want you to be loud. Any student, any faculty, any staff - this space was created for the entire campus,"
Harris said. "If you have an idea, if you have a problem you want to solve, we want Isley to be your first stop."
The official opening and ribbon cutting came at the end of the first day of the regular meeting of the ECU Board of Trustees. Chancellor Philip Rogers said "the power of partnerships"
was one of the themes in the University Affairs Committee meeting on Thursday. "I don't know that there's a better depiction of how a new facility like this one can come together through the power of partnerships to advance our mission and advance our goals as an institution. And I think the power of partnerships is what's going to sustain this place, now and in the future,"
Rogers recalled visiting the Isley Hub the first week of classes and watching a senior engineering student mentor a freshman in the makerspace, named for the late Sam Wornom, a dedicated alumnus who served on numerous ECU boards. "And that was a special moment in just a couple of days of this place being open, to really see that power of partnership and the power of our mission in action. The mission that we have at ECU really does drive this work,"
Provost Robin Coger, who has participated in creating similar innovation areas on other campuses, said she is excited about this important space that she thinks is "a physical manifestation of cornerstones that are extremely important to our university: teamwork, partnership, innovation."
The value of multidisciplinary collaboration translates to more than a facility, Coger said, but "an entrepreneurial-mindset ecosystem designed to force out-of-the-box thinking for the College of Business, the College of Engineering and Technology, and for every college and school at East Carolina University."
During Friday's trustees meeting, Rogers said innovation is an area that he will challenge the campus community to prioritize as part of a refresh of ECU's strategic plan. "In coping with the complexities of a changing higher education landscape and charting a course for the next five years, I believe we must embrace a culture of innovation and be nimbler and more adaptable across our organization,"
The work will happen at the same time as the UNC Board of Governors updates the system's strategic plan. "We now have the opportunity to shape ECU's future over the next five years in ongoing alignment with the system's goals and metrics,"
he said. Officials are designing the process and timeline for the plan and will provide updates in the coming months.
With the start of the fall semester, Rogers has seen "a sense of renewed energy and enthusiasm"
on campus in providing a full in-person student experience for the first time in two years. "I can't think of a better moment to embrace our collective responsibility to deliver on our commitments and provide our learners with a high-quality educational experience,"
In other business, ECU trustees:
- Approved a lease agreement for 2023 for student housing in Manteo for the Coastal Studies Institute Semester at the Coast program as part of the trustees' consent agenda on Friday.
- Heard from Alex Keddie, senior associate athletics director for compliance, who updated the Athletics and Advancement Committee on Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) rules. Christopher Dyba, vice chancellor for university advancement, said contributions to ECU's Pursue Gold campaign had reached $413.4 million. He thanked contributors to the campaign as well as those working to help ECU reach its $500 million goal.
- Received information from student affairs, Research, Economic Development and Engagement (REDE) and academic affairs in a presentation to the University Affairs Committee on partnerships within and outside the university. REDE shared that in 2022, ECU received its highest sponsored awards total ever at $82 million.
- Received an update on several capital projects scheduled for design and bid in the coming years, including renovations to bathrooms and the heating and air conditioning system for Fleming Residence Hall; the second phase of Mendenhall Building renovations that will enable the ECU admissions office to move there; the first phase of renovations to the south wing of the Howell Science Building; a comprehensive renovation of the Whichard Building; and planning for a new 200,000-square-foot Brody Medical Education Building, which will include a 500-space parking deck. The university has more than $900 million in deferred maintenance projects.
- Heard presentations on civil discourse and freedom of expression from Vice Chancellor Virginia Hardy and Provost Robin Coger in the new Committee on Strategy and Innovation. ECU is intentional in providing students, faculty and staff with safe areas for debates, said Trustee Tom Furr.
- Received the Office of Internal Audit and Management Advisory Services fiscal year 2022 annual report in the Audit, Risk Management, Compliance and Ethics Committee. Among the results were 102 consultations, 50 completed projects, 93 formal recommendations and identification of nearly $92,000 in cost savings and monetary recovery.
The next board meeting will be Nov. 3-4.