Denver university gets $5 million to mix art, tech and entrepreneurship in new center
A $5 million gift to the University of Colorado Denver will combine the study of art and technology with real-world problems in an innovation center named after donor Comcast Corp.
Philadelphia-based Comcast, which employs more than 8,000 people in Colorado, provided the funds partly to invest in a future workforce. But more importantly, said Comcast’s Matt McConnell, students will learn to mix skills — something necessary in the real world that doesn’t always happen if, for example, an engineering student is only studying code.
“At the core, the value to us is interdisciplinary mixed with business, arts and applied engineering. That’s what attracted us to this,” said McConnell, the company’s senior vice president and general manager of Comcast Technology Solutions.
Comcast Media and Technology Center, a 1,900-square-foot space based at the Tivoli Student Union on CU Denver’s Auraria Campus, will open in March. The College of Arts & Media is working with the College of Engineering and Applied Science to create curriculum for students for the fall. Comcast and other businesses will provide staff experts and real-world problems. The space will also be open to professionals needing additional, not-for-credit training.
There’s been a spate of innovation initiatives at area schools. In late 2015, the University of Denver launched Project X-ITE to unite the engineering, business and law schools with entrepreneurs.
“Each of the universities have upped their emphases on innovation and entrepreneurship, which collectively is terrific for Colorado and the region,” said Erik Mitisek, Project X-ITE’s executive director.
Colorado College in Colorado Springs added entrepreneur Dez Stone Menendez as its innovation director in September. Colorado State University picked Silicon Valley veteran Mark Kent last month for its Institute of Entrepreneurship. This month, the University of Colorado in Boulder hired Phil Weiser, the founder of Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship, as the new director for the school’s innovation and entrepreneurship initiative.
“Innovation has led our institutions of higher ed for a long time,” Mitisek said. “But when you think about the advent of mass acceptance of human design being part of critical student problem-solving and creative ideas, that’s a new concept. In Boston and elsewhere, education has been deeply focused on really putting students in the path of all disciplines.”
For CU Denver students, this means a simpler path to becoming a virtual reality engineer or video game creator. Students currently need to mix and match art, design and computer courses, which can require double majors and identifying courses outside of traditional majors.
“Right now, the university would say we have the skills but no degree,” said Brian DeLevie, associate professor of visual arts in the College of Arts and Media, who is co-director of the new center. “The storytelling, emotional response and game play tend to reside in the arts, animation and design. But there’s a large amount of technology to make hair look like hair and fluid look like fluid.”
The center won’t grant degrees. But by combining courses in arts and technology, it intends to guide students to courses that don’t clearly fall under engineering or art realms. The local business community is expected to provide experts and the problems so students will be better prepared for the workforce.
“If you look at the real world work environment, they always have a close collaboration of the technology side and the design side to make the outcome more human-centric and user friendly,” said Min-hyung Choi, CU Denver associate professor of computer science and engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, and the center’s other co-director. “Computer games are the perfect example of why design and art should collaborate with technology. …That’s the modern standard in game studios.”