back to news May 23, 2013

Full Steam Ahead: Ohio State's STEAM Factory Gets Boost

Roman Holowinsky, assistant professor, mathematics, and colleagues from across campus who formed the STEAM Factory just a few months ago, are making huge strides in their push to have the Arts and Humanities be an integral part of the existing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) equation at Ohio State. The STEAM Factory’s new Impact Grant from the Office of Outreach and Engagement increases momentum already generated around campus and in the Columbus community.

Converting STEM to STEAM is making a stir around the country. The driving idea is that STEAM collaborations transform and advance discovery and innovation by connecting the innate creative impulse that propels each of these areas forward.

The genesis of STEAM at Ohio State began about two years ago when an assistant professor in computer science and engineering, Mike Bond, brought together a diverse group of new junior faculty for social gatherings and informal conversations. (The meet-up group is called Columbus Junior Faculty.)

“By December 2012, we had discovered several common research interests, despite being in different disciplines—and, we were beginning to realize the potential for interdisciplinary collaboration,” founding STEAM Factory member Holowinsky said.

Excited about the possibility of tapping into the resources of this relatively unexplored territory, they set out to bring Ohio State’s scholars together—and break some new ground.

The next step was to organize formally. This would allow them to learn more about each other’s ongoing research and promote the value of academic research and technology by presenting their work to the public.

Held together by vision and conviction, the STEAM Factory’s board of directors—approximately 30 Ohio State University faculty, post-doctoral students and staff from multiple disciplines across campus, opened for business.

All they needed now was a framework and a focus. In January, 2013, with the help of an eLPD grant from Ohio State’s Digital Union, the STEAM Factory set up a collaborative space and public showcase at 400 W. Rich—a former warehouse in the East Franklinton area of Columbus—that provides a location for local artists, entrepreneurs, and performers to come together during its bimonthly indoor markets in the winter and outdoor markets in the summer.

It was the perfect STEAM Factory showcase—and members took full advantage of it— presenting their work every other week during Spring Semester in the interactive framework provided at 400 W. Rich. Market visitors got a fresh taste of research, including: GestureDB, an interactive gesture-based database system; MOOCulus, an interactive MOOC for Calculus; and Automated Analysis and Tagging of Music.

“The STEAM Factory’s presence among the artists and artisans at 400 W. Rich is a great staging area for us,” Holowinsky said. “Its proximity to downtown Columbus, COSI and the future site of the Columbus Idea Foundry supports rich possibilities for developing a hub of creativity and technology in Franklinton.”

A leap of imagination

Imagine this juxtaposition: acrobatic aerial stunts/calculus. Homemade-soap vendor/scientific explanation of molecular properties that make soap, soap.

“The market, filled with the buzz of activity and exciting sights, sounds, and smells, make topics like calculus, rhetorical composing, and biology come alive and seem less intimidating,” Holowinsky said. “And interactions between STEAM presenters and the public make Ohio State research accessible and strengthen the bond between Ohio State and the Columbus community.

“Presenting on a regular basis at the market maintains an ongoing relationship with the Columbus community and engages everyone from young children to grandparents and all ages in between.”

The Impact grant fuels the STEAM Factory’s goal of continued growth and expansion of its range of outreach activities.

“This grant makes it possible to think on a larger scale, one that will help us build greater public awareness and develop critical partnerships,” Holowinsky said.

“One exciting partnership in the offing is that with the Columbus Idea Foundry. Part of the grant will fund members to learn to use CIF equipment—a kind of train-the-trainer effort—then we and our students will have the skills to build more engaging research showcases for public display.

“The overarching goal is to establish a more permanent presence in Franklinton. I believe this is a critical focal point for developing greater outreach opportunities between Ohio State and the Columbus community,” Holowinsky said. 

More information can be found at the STEAM Factory website and STEM Outreach website.

If you would like to showcase your work to the public, discuss possible interdisciplinary research collaborations, or set up a program and obtain a letter of support from the STEAM Factory for your grant proposal, then please contact Roman Holowinsky.

--Sandi Rutkowski