Jason Frasca inspects a printed object.

Solving for X

Creativity, collaboration and innovation are key in MIX 3D printing lab

Photo: Jason Frasca inspects a printed object.

The Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship’s 3D MIX Lab is teaching students across the University how to solve problems in new and innovative ways. A hub for creativity, the MIX Lab is home to 35 3D printing devices with cloud connectivity and is the only facility of its kind in New Jersey and the New York City area and only the ninth such center in the country.

The lab is the brainchild of Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship Director Dennis Bone and led by co-directors, Entrepreneurship Instructor Jason Frasca and Associate Professor of Innovation Design Iain Kerr and it serves as a resource for the entire University community as well as local schools, businesses and manufacturers.

“We have to come up with new ways to look at the world, to make changes, to come up with innovative ideas,” Bone says. “That’s what innovation is all about, and that’s what we’re doing in this lab.”

What’s in a name?

MIX stands for Making and Innovating for X (or the unknown). “And what we’re trying to teach students is precisely that,” Kerr says. “How to make and innovate in the most rapid and hands-on, paradigm-shattering manner for X – for the unknown, for the large-scale problems we have to face today, for creativity itself.”

Photo of two students doing computer modeling on a laptop.
Computer modeling

The lab is home to the new nine-credit certificate in entrepreneurship, Lean Manufacturing and 3D Design. Since opening last August, the lab has been popular with students who are taking advantage of the opportunity to work with such cutting-edge technology.

“We offered our first class, Intro to 3D Printing and Design, in the fall and started a co-op this semester,” says Frasca. “Students earn credit for working here one day per week, but some of them are here 25 hours each week. We can’t get rid of them.”

Frasca is joking, of course. In reality, both directors encourage students to stop in and work on projects at any time – even students who haven’t had a chance to take a 3D printing class.

A 3D printer in action.
A 3D printer in action

“In many ways, this is something they can learn on their own, but we’re here to guide them,” says Frasca.

Junior economics major Altarik Banks can attest to that. Banks was in the program’s inaugural class in fall 2015 and is currently taking the second course. He describes the classes and his time in the lab as transformative.

“Prior to taking these courses, I was planning to work in finance after college and maybe get a job on Wall Street,” he says. “But now I’m reevaluating what I want to do as a career. I would like to do something innovative in the world and help solve some of the problems that exist.”

The certificate program, Banks adds, has introduced him to a new type of education and inspired him to stay on track with his studies.

Iain Kerr leads a class in the lab.
Iain Kerr leads a class in the lab.

“Innovating requires tapping into the unknown and looking past the traditional or intended use of something to see its potential,” says Banks. “I find it exciting. I have a growing passion for design and innovation, and I’ve cut back on my hours at my part-time job so I can spend more time in the lab. If I’m not in class then I’m at the lab. It’s pretty addictive.”

Removing academic boundaries

Students from all academic disciplines are welcome in the MIX Lab. Kerr and Frasca both say that the value of this technology transcends any one field and can be used in everything from economics to education – any area where problem-solving skills are needed.

“Our real hope is to create an entrepreneurial pipeline so students go through the classes, learn the process and create viable businesses.

Iain Kerr

“We’re trying to develop a learning style where design is about innovation in any field,” says Kerr. “Our goal is to teach students to think really, really big about design – and across all academic silos.”

They are finding that students appreciate the inclusiveness since innovators and entrepreneurs exist in every field of study.

“Our real hope,” says Kerr, “is to create an entrepreneurial pipeline so students go through the classes, learn the process and create viable businesses.”

Frasca agrees: “There’s no limit to what students can do with what they’re learning here.”