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ENMUR’s iCenter to open for public use; Facility for educational training and business innovation launches April 16

ENMU-R student Jackie Amero of Roswell works Thursday in the 3-D printer room of the iCenter to create a prototype of a base for a steam engine, a project for one of her classes in the associate of applied science degree program in engineering and design technology. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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A new center to strengthen educational training and prompt business innovation will open for business soon, and its leaders at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell expect more success for students and the community as a result.

“The iCenter is a facility for people to flesh out their ideas,” says Chad Smith, assistant vice president of technical education at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, left, seen with Grants Activity Director Jim Engelhard. The iCenter combines expertise, facilities and equipment. A “super-sized” laser engraver that works on flat and curved surfaces is one of the pieces of equipment available for use. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

The iCenter officially launches April 16 as a hub of expertise, equipment and facilities to help turn dreams into commercially viable projects or products, said Chad Smith, associate vice president of technical education.

“Once a person has an opportunity they want to pursue, then we add the iCenter,” he said. “The iCenter is a facility for people to flesh out their ideas.”

ENMU-R students have been accessing the iCenter for several months now to design and develop projects and products, both for their classes and their own business ventures, Smith said. Soon, community members will be welcomed as well.

“By everyone, I literally mean everyone,” Smith said. “It is not just ENMU-R students. It is anyone who wants access in the community. They can do that through a membership.”

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Mission: Improve education, business

The “i” in iCenter stands for innovation and inspiration as well as a slew of other words beginning with that letter.

The concept is modeled after the fabrication labs or “fab labs” at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Similar “maker space” facilities and concepts exist at other institutions, including at Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque and Navajo Technical University in Church Rock. The University of New Mexico also has a facility focusing on architecture. But ENMU-R’s facility is the first in the Roswell area.

“We really expect our fab lab to take on a flavor all of its own,” said Smith.

The concept at ENMU-R can trace its origins to 2014 when the university introduced an “Entrepreneurial Mindset” course, said Smith. That course, ENTR 101, meets the requirements of any degree program offered at the university and teaches students the characteristics of entrepreneurs and how to create and recognize opportunities.

But Smith and other university administrators, including Vice President for Academic Affairs Ken Maguire, Institutional Researcher Todd DeKay and Grant Activity Director Jim Engelhard, recognized that students needed more than a course. They also needed access to space and equipment to turn concepts into reality, and they needed connections to those who can provide expertise, advice and working capital.

Using the MIT model as a guide, the concept for the iCenter was born, and it began to take shape after the university received a five-year, $2.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, with part of that money allocated to purchasing and refurbishing hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and renovating rooms that previously were used for storage.

The iCenter is both a physical presence, with meeting rooms and labs at the Occupational Technology Center at the ENMU-R campus, and a conceptual framework. To be directed by iCenter coordinator Raif Henrie and an engineering design faculty member yet to be named, the concept revolves around seven “studios.”

Studio A is a room where people gather and sign-in to use the facilities. Studio B is a computer lab with software and presentation technology so that people can design and collaborate on projects. In Studio C, a “wired” lab making real-time collaboration possible, people can create prototypes using a vinyl printer that produces small stickers to large banners; a fabrics lab with embroidery and sewing machines and a T-shirt press; 3-D printers; a laser engraver that can work on both flat and spherical-shaped materials; and assembly workspaces. Studio D has wood- and plastic-working tools. Studio E is for metal-working. Studio F, to be equipped with a wall-sized interactive screen, is a presentation and conference room where people can hold local, regional or global meetings with the community, business partners or investors. The technology in that room will allow people to present, livestream and record simultaneously, Smith said.

Then there is Studio G, a business accelerator open to all and offered in conjunction with the New Mexico State University Arrowhead Center in Las Cruces. It will match people with business mentors as they develop business and marketing plans, obtain legal advice or seek funding sources.

“If you follow your ABCs, A to G, then you can go from discovery to economic viability,” said Smith.

Any student or faculty member at ENMU-R can access the iCenter and anyone associated with ENMU as current or former students or faculty can use Studio G. Area K12 teachers and students also will can arrange to use the iCenter facilities. Community members, whether pursuing a business concept or a hobby, can join the iCenter and its studios for a monthly fee that has yet to be determined.

From STEM to Fruitage

The grant requires certain outcomes, centered on retention and program completion rates by students, said Smith and Engelhard.

“If students can see that what they are learning can actually be used in real life or can actually be used to make a living, then they are going to stick out their program and finish,“ Smith said. “It is going to change the way people think about education.”

He said the iCenter will strengthen Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education at all levels in the area. Part of that effort includes introducing a new curriculum known as Intel Future Skills that is now taught at Central New Mexico College College. ENMU-R will be the provider of the curriculum in southern New Mexico.

The fab lab concept has worked not only at MIT but at other places in the country.

Central New Mexico Community College’s Fuze Makerspace has 56 paying members after its first year and aims to have 100 by 2019, according to Operations Manager Dena Aouassou. It offers varied rates for individuals, groups or businesses.

It also has a commercial success; a person has received a contract from Amazon to sell an e-cigarette holder developed at the Fuze Lab. Other students and community members are developing snowboards, guitars and amplifiers, boom boxes and chairs.

“We try to be open to build whatever our community members want to build,” she said.

While Smith said he anticipates that the iCenter will attract people interested in developing products for aviation, agriculture and engineering design, he said only the people with the university and the community can determine that.

“This time next year,” said Smith, “there will be a definite personality that has come about in our fab lab.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.