Professor of Cultural Studies & Creative Industries, Rajinder Dudrah, introduces the thinking behind STEAMhouse, the journey that led us here – including an adventure across the pond – and the vision for the future.
When the STEM-based subjects meet art, the interaction creates STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths: a potent concoction, ripe for collaboration. These are, more than ever, the components that forward-thinking businesses must adopt. They’re traditional disciplines, but now with a hat tip to the creative.
STEAMhouse is a network of laboratories all under one roof in Digbeth that will create yet more STEAM. A Midlands powerhouse of innovation and growth by collaborative means. It will become one of Birmingham City University’s contributions to localised #regioneration. It will also help forge the collaboration of university academia with external working partners. Then, between them: innovation.
The result of this alchemy? University colleagues and their partners will use STEAM components in innovative, interdisciplinary ways.
Through collaboration, partners will test and provide solutions to some of today’s more pressing challenges.
STEAMhouse is developing apace throughout the University. Already, an academic year’s worth of meetings, visits and activities with our external partners have taken place. We’ve planned even more events for 2017, from pre-launch to launch and beyond.The most exciting is Phase One: launch of the STEAMhouse building in Digbeth that will house future events from early 2018.
But before we get there, here’s what the STEAM team did for this project in America.
STEAM Team goes Stateside
At the beginning of the 2016/17 academic year, a five-strong team from Birmingham City University visited Rhode Island and New York City. The trip was part of a fact-finding and networking trip to see STEAM-based institutions in the US.
Our travelling party consisted of:
- Joanna Birch (Director of Innovation and Enterprise);
- Tom Cahill-Jones (Development Manager in the Institute for Creative Innovation);
- Dr Steve Harding (Director of Creative Innovation);
- Professor Hanifa Shah (Associate Dean for Research and Enterprise, Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment);
- yours truly, Rajinder Dudrah, (Professor of Cultural Studies and Creative Industries in the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media).
“WE WILL NEED TO FOSTER A CULTURE OF COLLABORATION; THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY OF DOING ‘STEAM’.”
Between us on this extensive trip, the team visited:
- Rhode Island School of Design in Providence;
- Startup52 in Harlem;
- The Pratt Institute’s Fashion and Design Accelerator in Brooklyn;
- New School’s Parsons Lab in Manhattan;
- the Staten Island Maker Space.
Quite the trip!
STEAM education and programmes have been formally embedded into the USA’s education curriculum in varying degrees.Since the mid to late 2000s (at least), they’ve appeared in secondary through to tertiary levels.
This trip was invaluable for us back then. Yes, we met with new colleagues. We saw and learned varied ways of working in and with STEAM. But it also gave us the chance to consider what a STEAMhouse facility and culture may look and feel like for BCU.
STEAMhouse roll out: one ambition, two phases
The University has devised two phases through which our STEAMhouse facilities and activities will begin to materialise.
Phase One: Place
The STEAMhouse building is located on the Digbeth High Street and is ours from early 2018.Through a University enterprise and partnership model, it will enable businesses to develop innovative ideas and creative products in a collaborative setting.The building will have spaces specifically designed to harbour collaboration. The universal term for such is “maker spaces”. And with good reason.Working side by side will encourage businesses to incubate new ideas and prototype their new creative products and services. They’ll be able to do this over a three year period.
Phase Two: Development
The second phase will see the development of the STEAMhouse project, which has attracted over £22 million of investment. It’s easy to see why.STEAMhouse will be a large-scale collaborative centre, its DNA a mix of incubation, collaboration and maker spaces in the heart of Birmingham.
Alongside, a new STEAMhouse education facility called STEAM Academy will create interdisciplinary courses using industry input.
And, as with any new major venture, the STEAMhouse project will encapsulate all moving parts of the University.Academics will come together, learning, discussing, developing and creating from existing and new ways of thinking and doing.
That’s only on the inside!We’ll also work alongside our external partners, drawing on one of BCU’s existing strengths.
The list of our partners will include, but isn’t limited to:
- makers from various trades;
- local and national government.
As I say, they’re only the tip of the iceberg.
“HOW MIGHT WE COLLECTIVELY BEGIN TO MAKE SENSE OF STEAMHOUSE AND ALLOW IT TO WORK FOR US?”
How STEAMhouse will work
STEAMhouse as an idea is one thing. But as a University project, too? For some, I included, may also find taking on such a project somewhat overwhelming, albeit only at the outset.How might we now, as a collective, begin to make sense of STEAMhouse and allow it to work for us?
First, reflecting on our group trip to the States is a great place to start considering possibilities. Also, going to STEAMhouse-related events and meetings across the University has given me invaluable insight. As such, I’m still ruminating on a few points and unanswered questions. They persist, despite the course upon which this invigorating year has taken me.
Those thoughts are worth mentioning here as, to me, they speak to the culture of open enquiry around STEAM. And that’s a genre in which many at the University already excel:
How can ‘interdisciplinarity’ work best for us?
Many of us already work in interdisciplinary ways. That means STEAMhouse will also give us the chance to take stock of how we are working within in our main disciplinary area(s). Moreover, we can gauge how we fare in dialogue with and then expedite other disciplinary methodologies for research enquiries.
Recognising the need to foster a culture of collaboration
There is no right way to ‘do’ STEAM. We may well need to explore a variety of approaches at Birmingham City University.We then need to consider which will work well for us. This will become more urgent if we find that there’s a culture of collaboration grounded in intellectual and practice-based “curiosity”.
STEAMhouse: our interdisciplinary way of working
We have to adopt an internal way of interdisciplinary working and must extend working this way with our external partners and our students. We must also take seriously the challenge and opportunities of diversity and diverse ways of working in the creative industries.
Where possible, we’ll need to help prepare students for work in a world that demands they think and act in this way. Collaborative working portends the future and will benefit both our graduates and small business participants.
From our end, we will provide STEAM Scholars: STEAMhouse PhD scholarships. Those whom we’ve recruited over the course of the past year reflect good indications of this approach.
How to get involved
We now have the keys to the STEAMhouse building in Digbeth and exciting opportunities await us. Please do look out for STEAMhouse-related activities and consider the opportunity.