A new learning hub on campus makes three

Penn will have a trinity of learning hubs when the Weiss Tech House opens its doors in January 2003.

The Tech House, a new two-story glass-enclosed structure, will face Walnut Street as a part of the Graduate Research Wing of the Moore School and serve as the eastern anchor of the University’s hub system, which now includes the Kelly Writers House and Civic House.

Similar to its literary and community service counterparts, the Tech House will act as a gathering place for students across campus who share an interest in all things technological.

Karl Ulrich, faculty director of the House, said the aim is to nurture Penn undergraduates.

“By the time students are in graduate school, they’ve already made their choices about what their pursuits are going to be. My agenda is to get more of our undergraduate students interested in technology,” he said.

And don’t expect to see only engineering and computing students either. Tech House Director Anne Stamer said the idea is to attract not only tech-savvy students but really any student who is enthusiastic about the possibilities of technology.

“Someone can have an interest in technology whether they’re in the College or Nursing,” said Stamer. “They don’t have to be in Engineering. This will be a place for them to come together and find other people like them.”

Stamer said “anything with a technology twist to it” will be received with open arms, whether it’s a student project in biotechnology, educational or financial technologies.

The 3000-square-foot facility will house a mechanical lab, an electronics shop and computing resources with plenty of physical space left for student innovations. Ulrich, who is also associate professor of operations and information management at Wharton, said he foresees projects falling into four different categories—projects that serve an educational purpose for primary schools, social and environmental technologies, technologies that support current research at Penn and projects that simply have a lot of student enthusiasm.

And it doesn’t matter whether any of these projects will generate revenue. “I don’t want to do things that only have marketplace potential. That can be a frustrating hurdle for undergraduates,” said Ulrich. “I’d like students to be thinking about how important the idea is and not so much, gee, this has to be a business.”

For example, Tech House students may help develop tools which can be used in elementary school science curriculums but which could not normally be developed in a commercial environment.

Ulrich said an Innovation Fund, to be managed by students, will offer financial support for some of the projects. Intellectual support, what Ulrich calls “coaching,” will come from workshop speakers and experienced innovators from Penn and the surrounding community.

This guidance component will broaden the range of faces at Tech House, said Stamer. “I think there are a lot of people out there who are interested in technology but are put off by the language or the whole look of it. If we can help get them involved, it will really help shape where they are going to end up going in their future.”

Ulrich said students have already approached him with great ideas. Who knows? Maybe the next hybrid supercar will be Penn-made.

Originally published on December 5, 2002