WICHITA, Kan. — For now, most folks know about Wichita State University because of its basketball team and, maybe, because of its pizza history. Soon, though, the most public face of the fifth-largest institute of higher learning in Kansas could switch from its Shockers or the first Pizza Hut to innovative advanced manufacturing.
Wichita State officially opened the doors to its new 3DEXPERIENCE Center last Thursday — the product of a partnership between Dassault Systèmes and the school’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) that adds more than 120,000 square feet of lab and work space to a burgeoning Innovation Campus. Students can work on practical projects and enter the workforce as experts on the latest tech. Regular folks can walk right in and fiddle around in an expansive makerspace. And the school can pitch itself as far more than an NCAA Tournament regular.
If the Innovation Campus continues to develop as planned, it could provide another blueprint for how to blend higher education with major companies and, of course, practical skills designed for students to land that first (and second, and third) job.
“This center ticks a lot of boxes for people like me,” said Michel Tellier, VP of aerospace and defense for Dassault. “A center like this allows us to create an operational metaphor where that end-to-end capability is actually implemented and in operation. I can bring our customers here and they can understand what technology can do for them — and, more important, they can experiment.”
The center serves plenty of other purposes, too. It provides lab space for aerospace startups to innovate and perhaps develop prototypes. It helps develop a new crop of engineers, some of whom might land at Dassault (or at Airbus, which is a partner and also now has more than 300 employees at work on commercial aircraft products in offices in a neighboring building on campus). Perhaps most important for Wichita State, it provides a physical center for a planned Innovation Campus that will cover more than 120 acres and open the school to a wider audience.
It is the story of the middle paragraph that has the most long-term significance in this story: An entirely new design for a college campus that combines the higher education of Wichita State University and the Wichita Area Technical College. It is called the "Innovation Campus" and the whole idea is to bring new research (such as from Wichita's National Institute for Aviation Research) and quickly and efficiently (i.e., hands-on, not theory only) bring it to students in a way that prepares them for work in the real world of the 21st Century economy.
Wish us luck and bringing this to its full potential!