Eight-day showcase will celebrate explosion of student innovation


Natalie Vaessen, left, a junior in event management, receives a flower Tuesday from Jackie Underhill, a sophomore in apparel, merchandising and design. Underhill was giving away flowers outside Parks Library to promote the Fashion Show, one of the numerous events in the Ignite Innovation Showcase. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Student innovation has spread like wildfire this year, kindled by the launch of Innovate at Iowa State programming and the Student Innovation Center's opening. The breadth of that growth -- and the creativity and inventiveness long present in every corner of campus -- will be on display in a first-ever celebration of innovators making their mark at Iowa State. 

Fittingly called the Ignite Innovation Showcase, the eight-day event that begins April 16 will exhibit a wide variety of student accomplishments and ideas -- scientific research, business startups, artistic creations, civic change-making and more. The showcase is designed to recognize and support the impact of student innovators and the faculty and staff collaborating with them, said entrepreneur in residence Karen Kerns, who is organizing the event.

"As we feature their work, their passion, their own unique brand of innovating meaningful contribution, we experience the pride and joy that comes from knowing we are part of something bigger than ourselves, something that will grow and create value beyond us. This is what it means to Innovate at Iowa State," she said.

Kerns said getting a peek at the explosion of student energy, imagination and productivity also serves as an invitation for more students, faculty, staff and potential industry partners to participate in Innovate at Iowa State, a campuswide initiative that launched last fall.

"Hopefully, people will be inspired to engage and connect," she said.

Ignite will feature more than 110 sessions, delivered virtually due to COVID-19 precautions. About half will be livestreams and half were prerecorded, but many of the sessions recorded in advance will include moderated live chats to encourage discussion. To see a full schedule and access event links, participants must register online. All sessions, including livestreams, will be archived on the site and available to view shortly after the session is complete. The showcase is free and open to the public.

Here are some highlights from each day's lineup:

Friday, April 16

Ignite begins with a welcome from President Wendy Wintersteen at 4:30 p.m., followed by an overview by Kerns and a Student Innovation Center tour from center director Jim Oliver. At 6 p.m., College of Design Dean Luis Rico-Gutierrez will discuss the college's effort to seek student solutions for creating equitable, accessible and inclusive places of learning. The first night of the annual student-led Fashion Show will be livestreamed at 7 p.m. College of Engineering innovator in residence and former Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg delivers a keynote at 9 p.m.

Saturday, April 17

Many of the sessions center around a theme park ride design contest, which challenges teams of student engineers to build a functional model of the attraction. The national competition was founded by an Iowa State student. An overview is at 8 a.m., with numerous panels and demonstrations throughout the day. Winners of the contest will be announced at 7 p.m. The second night of the Fashion Show also begins at 7 p.m.

Sunday, April 18

In the afternoon and evening, enjoy a watch party of ISU Theatre's five virtual productions from 2020-21, kicking off with a 1 p.m. welcome from director Brad Dell and a panel discussion with students at 4 p.m.

Monday, April 19

A day celebrating entrepreneurship includes morning chats with students who founded successful businesses, the live announcement at noon of the 2021 CYstarters cohort and a 1:30 p.m. panel with CYstarters alumni. Throughout the day, students will compete in improv pitch competitions, suggesting impromptu innovations or business ideas based on a surprise topic. The pitch contests will be held by college, and each session will detail entrepreneurship opportunities and efforts in that college.

Tuesday, April 20

The intersection of art and environment is the emphasis. Find a creative spark in three interactive writing prompt sessions or take a tour of the Casey Nature Reserve, 76 acres of wilderness in Boone County stewarded by the master in fine arts (MFA) program in creative writing and environment. Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment, an ISU-based student-run national journal, will present readings of eco-plays at 12:30, 3:30 and 8 p.m. Hear about ISU's contribution to the Climate Change Theatre Action project at 11 a.m., or catch a live reading from MFA students at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, April 21

Presentations will be devoted to the 15th annual Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression, with 25 program-specific sessions organized in five 90-minute time blocks throughout the day.

Thursday, April 22

The focus is on civic innovation and engagement, with students talking about their community-changing projects and leadership in sessions at 3 and 4 p.m. A roundtable of senior leaders at 9 a.m. will discuss community initiatives that connect to Iowa State's land-grant mission. The College of Design will unveil a new student magazine about civic innovation at 10 a.m., then hold a workshop on wearable art at 10:30 and a panel on its Wearables Design Show at noon. The University Library will outline a pair of civic-minded initiatives at 3:30 and 3:45 p.m.

Friday, April 23

Throughout the morning, leaders in every college will highlight their college's innovation programming, opportunities and projects. At 2:30 p.m., ISU Extension and Outreach will demonstrate how it extends innovation beyond campus, and a 3:30 p.m. session features a novel recruiting initiative. The showcase closes with a 4 p.m. awards ceremony honoring Student Innovation Fellows and winners of the Student Innovation Fund Challenge, followed by a performance by the ISU Marching Band of a student-composed theme song for Innovate at Iowa State.