East Elementary to become DSU entrepreneur’s center

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East Elementary School will soon become a center for technology and creativity and renamed Innovation Plaza.

During the 21st annual What’s Up Down South economic summit Thursday, Dixie State University announced the new center will be an innovation, entrepreneurial and collaboration center.

“There are many initiatives at the university right now in academic affairs revolving around entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Michael Lacourse, vice president of academic affairs at DSU. “There were so many in fact that we realized early on we couldn’t do the work that’s being proposed in those initiatives without a space and the fact that there were so many things going on involving entrepreneurship and innovation, it made sense to put them all in the same space.”

One of the programs that will take up residence in the new center will be the Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, Lacourse said. One of the center’s goals is to allow students, faculty and community members to bring their ideas, build a business plan, and put that business together.

The second piece that DSU developed is called DIGS — the Dixie Innovation Guidance and Solutions program, he said. DIGS is to assist students, faculty and community members with an original idea for a product or a service that could turn into a patent.

Also coming to East Elementary is a “maker space” supplied with tools and equipment — including a 3-D printer and a laser cutter, which will allow makers to prototype, test and modify their ideas.

Innovation Plaza will also feature a design center where their creative ideas can come to fruition.

“In the building we’ll have the capability and the resources to identify a problem, a process to get the solutions, solution to patent, patent to business, all in one place,” Lacourse said.

There will also be an academic innovation center within the building where faculty can go and get support to find innovation in their teaching techniques.  The DSU online administration will likewise be housed in the center, as will the Success Academy, an early college high school already in place at DSU.

Jyl Hall, director of public relations, said Innovation Plaza is another piece of the puzzle in the university’s overall plan for growth.

“It’s part of the strategic plan to grow how many students we can accommodate, but we are being very careful and methodical about that growth,” Hall said. “We want to make sure it is quality growth. Programs like this new technology center ensure that is happening.”

By having quality programs in place, DSU is helping prepare students for quality careers after they graduate, she said. But Innovation Plaza will not be a typical school setting.

“Generally speaking, it’s going to be very much an open space, not many offices, not many classrooms—mostly an open space for people to collaborate and interact,” Lacourse said.

There will be lounge areas, small conference areas, work stations and open space for people to work.

He said: “What does the community need? We asked those questions. What are the long-range plans of Washington County? What industry area and programs should we be focusing on? When those questions were answered, the answer was technology.”

Focusing so heavily on technology helps fill a gap, Lacourse said. There are approximately 32 universities in the United States that focus primarily on technology, but few of those are located in the Intermountain West. There are technology-based schools in Denver, Phoenix and Los Angeles, but nowhere else in the region.

“There is a wide-open area without any university that’s really going to focus deeply on these kinds of programs,” he said. “So given that there’s that gap, given that that’s the need of the local community, given that we want to be involved with economic development to support it, it made sense for us to talk about building an academic program focused more on those areas.”