The building at the corner of West Rich and Lucas streets in the Franklinton neighborhood of Columbus looks much like an old warehouse. Inside its walls, however, 400 W. Rich St. houses work and meeting space for dozens of artists, startups and nonprofits. It also houses the Ohio State STEAM Factory, a collaborative workspace for OSU faculty members to meet and work, as well as connect their research to the Columbus community.
The STEAM Factory was founded in December 2012 by a collection of OSU faculty members who had regularly met informally to discuss their work for more than two years, said Roman Holowinsky, chair of the STEAM Factory and math professor. The group was going to events in Franklinton regularly, including a Festivus party where organizations from the community, including COSI, were demonstrating their work, Holowinsky said. The group decided that events like these would be good place to showcase OSU research, and as a result the STEAM Factory was assembled.
Since then, the STEAM Factory has grown from a dozen members to more than 100, and it receives funding from five OSU colleges. Holowinsky said the STEAM Factory focuses on two main goals: outreach to the community and fostering a sense of collaboration among the membership. The STEAM Factory participates in Franklinton Fridays, an art crawl around the Franklinton neighborhood. During the event, the STEAM Factory hosts a variety of demonstrations for the public.
“Hundreds of people if not thousands are walking through the building during these events, and we have started doing large showcases of different kinds of research that our members are working on and interesting public lectures,” Holowinsky said. “That’s the kind of thing we’re doing with our outreach events: showcasing our research and technology to the public.”
In order to foster collaboration between faculty, the group hosts STEAM Exchanges, which are seminars on generic topics, Holowinsky said. The exchanges feature three speakers who talk generally about a topic for 15 minutes each, followed by 10 minutes of discussion. The exchanges have led to several faculty members forming working relationships, he said.
“Without trying to push on too concrete of a theme, it’s a great way of discovering where people have commonalities in terms of research interest,” Holowinsky said.
The STEAM Factory also functions as a space for instructors to bring their classes, Holowinsky said, particularly if the subject matter relates to downtown Columbus. He added that several professors from the Knowlton School of Architecture bring their classes to meet and work on projects with groups in Franklinton, as well as the other tenants of 400 Rich St.
“It also functions as a third place,” he said. “You have your office, but you can only fit one or two people in there, so if you want to work on a larger collaborative project, STEAM Factory members are welcome to use the space.”
The STEAM Factory also collaborates with the Buckeye Leadership Fellows — an organization that tasks its student members to solve interdisciplinary problems, said Eddie Pauline, a director of business development for the Office of Economic and Corporate Engagement and the former leader of the Buckeye Leadership Fellows. Pauline, who is an active member of the STEAM Factory, said that getting students off campus into the STEAM Factory space allows them to collaborate with faculty and connect with organizations in ways that otherwise would not be possible.
“I think the more that the STEAM Factory can demonstrate the value of multidisciplinary work, the more people will want to be associated with it,” Pauline said.
The collaboration between the two groups has led to projects and events with Columbus-based companies and organizations. Pauline said the group worked with CoverMyMeds on a conference that introduced students to the company.
Pauline said the STEAM Factory was also a way for OSU to make an investment in Franklinton, adding that its location has led to more students and faculty visiting Franklinton than would otherwise.
“It serves as a great liaison spot to connect the downtown community to the university,” Holowinsky said.
Holowinsky said students are involved with the STEAM Factory on numerous levels, but it is often through another program, be it classes or research, or collaborations like the one with Buckeye Leadership Fellows.
Pauline said the constant theme throughout much of the STEAM Factory’s work is problem solving.
“The university’s best gift to the community is creating a culture of people who can solve problems,” Pauline said. “And having a physical space and a like-minded group of people — students, faculty and community members — working across disciplines to do that is really powerful.”
Holowinsky said he believes interdisciplinary research is going to be the angle from which the next great discovery may be made. He said that if everyone focuses on their individual areas of expertise, there will be growth in each area on its own, but entire areas may be left unresearched.
“Us being able to talk to each other on what we are experts in is really opening the doors to us making discoveries that otherwise wouldn’t be made,” Holowinsky said.
Charlene Brenner, project coordinator for the STEAM Factory, said any of the large global challenges that society faces must be solved by interdisciplinary research instead of conventional “siloed” research. She added that many of the organizations that fund research are now looking for more holistic ways of looking at problems, as opposed to what would be studied in one department. She added that while interdisciplinary research shouldn’t replace conventional research, it presents numerous opportunities.
“There is no solution that lives within a single discipline,” she said. “Really to look at the most pressing problems that we as a planet face, we really need to be work collaboratively.”
The Engaged Scholars logo accompanies stories that feature and examine research and teaching partnerships formed between the Ohio State University and the community (local, state, national and global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources. These stories spring from a partnership with OSU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. The Lantern retains sole editorial control over the selection, writing and editing of these stories.