Lafayette’s IDEAL

Center for Innovation encourages experiential learning

Priding itself on Innovation, Design, Education and Leadership, the IDEAL center aims to bring new facet to the Lafayette education. IDEAL focuses on matching aspiring students to faculty and external partners, such as companies, foundations or alumni in order to design a student-led project.

Directed by professors Diane Ahl and James Ferri with the help of professor Nicole Crain, the IDEAL center is in its second year of operation. Since its inception, those involved have been working to make IDEAL a completely different experience for students.

“To call it a course doesn’t capture the essence of what we want [it]to be- an immersion experience.” Professor Ahl said.

Students, rather than faculty, are organizers of their IDEAL experience. Unlike independent studies or the EXCEL Scholar program, students design their projects and are expected to create and facilitate lectures, seminars or demonstrations with prospective external partners. Faculty partners serve more as a guiding hand, rather than leading the process.

Project ideas can also come from external partners or Lafayette faculty. IDEAL hopes to build a database of students, faculty and external partners, in order to bring together an interdisciplinary group of students that can collaborate on a project that reflects their interests, and that of their faculty advisor.

A student also does not need to be an expert on the subject in order to be a part of an IDEAL project. Students of all level of interested are welcomed into the program, Ferri said. For example, an English student who has recently become interested in biochemistry and a biochemistry major could work together on a project.

Projects are conducted in a more real-world environment that diverges from a traditional classroom setting.

Students working on an IDEAL project concerning cultural conservation and nanotechnology are currently preparing to go to Italy this summer to work with scientists involved in this field. The scientists from the Research Center for Colloids and Nanoscience will give the team hands-on experience with the technology used to restore old and damaged precious works of art.

The closest experience to a typical Lafayette course setting that the team has experienced was a lab where the group created and destroyed their own frescoes, or watercolor plasters done on wet plaster, from scratch to understand their project in more depth.

Many projects have real-world applications. Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Professor Tobias Rossman has had his students go on to patent and continue prototyping their projects.

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