New digs for CMU program nutures innovators

Inside a former PNC Bank building in Oakland, Carnegie Mellon University students are hoping to design, build and market the next great invention.

Where there once was a large bank vault, there now are desks and a whiteboard. Where there used to be tellers, there are prototypes and sketches, students typing on laptops, and equations scrawled on the walls.

Since February, this has been the new home of CMU’s Integrated Innovation Institute, which formally launched May 13. Building on the existing master’s of product development program, the institute aims to nurture intensive collaboration among three disciplines: engineering, business and design.

The Institute’s co-directors — marketing professor Peter Boatwright, mechanical engineering professor Jonathan Cagan and industrial design professor Eric Anderson — believe the convergence of these fields represents a formula for creative problem-solving.

“People think innovation is this vague concept. It’s actually the creation of value to the marketplace,” Mr. Cagan said. “We’re trying to demonstrate that anyone who has the background can go through our methodology and be innovative.”

While the master’s degree in product development has existed for 11 years, the establishment of the Integrated Innovation Institute marks a milestone in the program’s rapid growth and increasing independence.

The university and student tuition fund the institute, according to Mr. Boatwright.

The biggest change so far has been the new space.

Thin, white walls separate student work space from the classroom on the first floor. The walls are adorned with collages and design sketches. There are papers, laptops and rulers scattered over tall wooden tables.

On the second floor, there is a couch and kitchenette, and walls that can be written on with markers.

Awash with natural light, the building is a welcome change from the program’s former quarters.

“We used to be in three rooms with no windows,” said Philip Marchetti, a recent graduate of the master’s in product development program. “The prototype space and the classroom were in a different building.”

At the new location, there is no such compartmentalization. A similarly holistic approach is demonstrated in the curriculum, Mr. Cagan said.

He noted that while the master’s program accepts students who have had extensive experience in at least one of the three core fields, these original disciplines do not define them.

“There is one student who I thought was an engineer,” Mr. Cagan recalled. “I learned recently that she majored in fine arts and psychology as an undergraduate.”

Mr. Boatwright and Mr. Cagan plan to hire additional staff to accommodate the program’s growing size, which they predict will reach 200 students over three campuses — in Pittsburgh, Silicon Valley and New York City — in the next five to seven years.

The curriculum is structured around a capstone course, Integrated Product Development, which was established more than two decades ago.

Student teams are partnered with corporate and nonprofit sponsors to develop products for the company’s specified needs.

About two dozen of these projects, which range from a Navistar truck interior to a shoe that extends to accommodate children’s growing feet, have been patented and commercialized.

This year’s graduates were given a choice between two degree names on their diplomas: the longstanding name, or a master’s of integrated innovation for products and services.

All members of the incoming and future classes will receive the master’s in integrated innovation.

Since 2004, Carnegie Mellon also has offered a master’s of science in software management at its Silicon Valley location that will be under the institute’s purview.

Yanan Wang: or 412-263-1949.

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