Taking it to the Next Level

Students hold the big scissors above the ribbon as Chancellor Grant looks on

“I can’t even begin to express how exciting it is to be here, to walk around and see these machines we’re actually going to be able to put our hands on, and learn, and take it to the next level,” said senior Lindsi Jones, shortly before cutting the ribbon to officially open UNC Asheville’s STEAM Studio at The RAMP on Dec. 15, 2016. The new facility adjacent to campus and in the north end of Asheville’s River Arts District will open up new possibilities for design projects beginning in the spring 2017 semester, and will bring together the disciplines of Mechatronics Engineering, Art, Computer Science, New Media and more under one roof.

“In this interdisciplinary space, with these amazing state-of-the-art pieces of equipment, our students can apply their theory and their design to create the devices that will shape our future,” said Rebecca Bruce, professor and interim director of UNC Asheville’s Mechatronics Engineering Program. “In this interdisciplinary space, our engineering students will work with artists to create form and function, to unify beauty and utility to address the full human condition.”

So it was more than symbolic that Jones, a mechatronics student, shared the big ribbon-cutting scissors with senior art major Jeb Hedgecock, who noted that “You don’t need nice equipment to make great art. What you do need is a community of supporters and devoted helping hands. I think, above all else, the fact that STEAM Studio has been brought to its feet is a testament that our school, and Asheville is just that sort of community.”

Chancellor Mary K. Grant summed it up this way: “Innovation and collaboration are at the heart of what we do at UNC Asheville, so much so that they are core institutional values. And creativity doesn’t happen in silos. It happens when we come together. It happens when we create places where we can do our best work, think creatively, work in partnership and make good things happen. This project, this great lab is a working example of collaboration.”

It took a group effort on and beyond campus to bring the dream of STEAM Studio to fruition. Planning, design and grant-writing by faculty and staff past and present won financial support totaling $1 million from the Windgate Charitable Foundation, Duke Energy Foundation and N.C. State University.

And once funding was in hand, faculty and Campus Operations staff teamed together to design and construct the interior of the facility. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, technicians and artists, faculty and students, administrators and community supporters joined together to celebrate.

“This, to me, says Asheville,” said Gwen Wisler, City of Asheville vice mayor. “The collaboration … this is the kind of thing that is the vision for Asheville, to bring artists and business and engineering together. I’m excited to see what comes out of this.”

Many others joined in celebrating the opening of the new STEAM Studio:

Jason Walls, district manager for Duke Energy, which provided a $400,000 grant: “Why does Duke Energy care about this? … This space isn’t about coming and making things. It’s about communication, collaboration, creativity, teamwork, problem solving, creating, making, commercializing, marketing. It’s about all of these things we need in our community to create great products, great skills, great human beings and great things. And UNC Asheville and their leadership in bringing this to reality was the reason that the company knew that it was a smart investment, a sound investment, and one that is going to return again, again and again for our community.”

Brent Skidmore, UNC Asheville associate professor of art, who was part of the core team envisioning and designing STEAM Studio, offering thanks to the Windgate Charitable Foundation and to its representative Stoney Lamar: “The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, Black Mountain College Museum, UNC Asheville, Asheville Art Museum – all of these organizations are what they are today because of the support of Stoney and the Windgate Charitable Foundation.”

Stoney Lamar, a sculptor, representing the Windgate Charitable Foundation which provided a $500,000 grant: “I’ve had a lot of people thank me this morning for the funding we’ve been able to provide. And I ought to thank you for the opportunity. … It’s an opportunity to change the world in some small ways and perhaps in some larger ways. … This is an amazing opportunity for UNC Asheville and for the region.”

Himanshu Karvir, vice chair, UNC Asheville Foundation Board: “I believe that this idea that faculty and staff had will change the world, because students who graduate from UNC Asheville in mechatronics and arts will help change the world. I want to thank the faculty members who had the idea for making a space that provides our students with unparalleled opportunity for education regardless of their field of study. I want to thank you for sharing the idea, and thank you to the hardworking staff … who took the idea and made it into a reality.”

For more information on STEAM Studio, visit steamstudio.unca.edu.