Tuesday I had the opportunity to spend the day at Drexel University’s ExCITe (Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies) Center in Philadelphia. The center’s mission: to bring together “faculty, students, and entrepreneurs from engineering, fashion design, digital media, performing arts, computer and information science, product design, and many other fields to pursue highly multi-disciplinary collaborative projects.” The Center boasts multiple projects that bring together high school students, undergraduate students, graduate students, private and public school K-12 teachers, and/or university faculty in projects that span music, materials science, engineering, computer programing, robotics, app design and implementation, fashion and design with an emphasis on relevance, outreach, and community impact.
To start the day, the Center’s self-titled “Enabler” Kara Lindstrom gave me a tour of the physical space, and from her design background emphasized how openness, transparency, and community collaboration infuse every aspect of the Center, both literally and figuratively (Takeaway #1).
Kara and I then discussed the Center’s Summer Music Technology Program in which local High School Students (9th and 10th graders) engage in project-based learning in engineering, technology, and science through the lens of music; and for which the curricula and modules are freely available through the Center’s webpage (Takeaway #2).
Meanwhile, the Center’s Associate Director Adam Fontecchio was leading this year’s participating teachers and engineering graduate students in their collaboration under the Graduate Stem Fellows in K-12 Education program aimed at improving math and science education in the greater metropolitan Philadelphia area (and beyond…). Adam and his participating teachers were outstanding resources who pointed me in the direction of several other schools (public, private and charter) who have put into practice technology-enriched, problem-based learning structures from which the team might draw, including the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, the STEM Academy at Downingtown, Science Leadership Academy, and the NYC iSchool (Takeaways #3 thru ?!? Schools and personal contacts!!)
The Center’s director Youngmoo Kim graciously took us all to lunch, where we had rich discussion about the importance and relevance of the intersection between art, technology, and science. Thereafter, he demonstrated for me two of the Center’s most impressive and inventive research projects, the magnetic resonator piano, which by combining traditional piano functionality and electromagnet control of piano strings is capable of producing types and qualities of sound impossible to achieve on a conventional piano, and the Hubo robot project, in which advanced robots are programmed for movements and behavior like regulation of balance, dancing to the beat, and even playing their own instrumental music! These projects were especially inspiring in that they represent what motivated people from diverse educational and professional perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences (from high school students, to engineering undergrads, to Drexel faculty, to professional musicians) can achieve when they put their heads together to solve problems.
It was an invigorating and inspiring day provided solely by the overwhelming generosity of exceptionally interesting and motivated people who just love what they do SO much that they want to share it.
I asked of Youngmoo Kim if there was anything I could do to repay the favor.
His response: “Just go out and do cool things.”