By Olivia Heuiyoung Park (ME ‘20)
Invention Factory, an innovative summer undergraduate program started by professors Alan Wolf and Eric Lima in 2013, is expanding to Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar, India in addition running at the Cooper Union and Syracuse University.
Initially funded by Edward Durbin’s (EE ‘48) Dean’s discretionary gift of $75,000 when Wolf was acting dean of the School of Engineering, the program will run for the sixth year at Cooper this summer, with almost no changes since the first year it was initiated.
Invention Factory is a program that strives to provide an innovative space for mostly underclassmen, who lack accelerated programs and opportunities as most are targeted for graduating seniors elsewhere. Invention Factory also strengthens students’ communication skills, as they have to give the same pitch every week to different audiences, and have to file a provisional patent through technical writing.
“We wanted to provide a forum where students could create things,” Lima, a professor of mechanical engineering at Cooper, explained. Wolf, a professor of physics, added that people “come to engineering schools thinking that they’ll build things, but […] you don’t really get to do that. And when you do build, it’s not something you want to do. Invention Factory allows students to make whatever they want.”
Invention Factory is their solution to the problem. The program, which selects 10 pairs of students to each work on an invention, is intentionally comprised of half women and half men in order to “recognize that women might have a lack of experience and opportunity in engineering.” But Wolf also believes that women can make especially powerful contributions, adding that “although we like all of our students, we really like that often times, women tend to be more conscientious, serious, and focused.”
Because Invention Factory invites guest speakers, it lets its inventors engage with the outside community. During the expansion to Syracuse last year, one of the guest evaluators happened to be a Syracuse and IIT alumnus. Amazed by the student performances, he also visited Invention Factory in Cooper Union, and expressed that he wanted to bring it to IIT.
IIT, a “more selective MIT of India”, will be holding an Invention Factory this summer in their Gandhinagar campus, funded by four IIT alumni. Because most classes at IIT are theory-based, there will also be a “warm-up” session beforehand to familiarize students with machines, programs, and tools. Although the number of women in engineering is even lower in India, the program will also push for a 50/50 split in the program, just like in the United States.
There will be 4 Invention Factories running this Summer (Cooper Union, Syracuse for NYC, Syracuse Campus, and IIT), with a total of 40 inventions. Due to the variety of campuses at IIT, the Invention Factories there have the potential to go many different ways. Wolf believes that as Invention Factory expands world-wide, it ultimately helps the Cooper Union, where the program started. They are also considering adding an optional Entrepreneurship sessions in the following years, to help students who would like to move forward with their inventions.
“We are very impressed by the students’ creativeness, diligence, thoroughness, and it’s easily the best 6 weeks of our year,” Professor Wolf rejoiced. “We are in line with Peter Cooper’s legacy, as an inventor and the ‘mechanic of New York City.’” ◊
Summer 2018 applications are now open at http://inventionfactory.org