Engineering students at SIUE have a new space to work in, thanks in part to Ed Grady and the School of Engineering.

The Grady Family Foundation Innovation Loft, which is now open, is located on the second floor of the school’s new Fowler Student Design Center.

The Innovation Loft is an agile, reconfigurable space designed to support collaboration and innovation for project teams in the School of Engineering.

The 1,200-square-foot space will be on display during the ribbon-cutting event for the Fowler Student Design Center at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 30.

“During the facility expansion five years ago, unfortunately, we did not have enough money to add some needed spaces,” Cem Karacal, dean of the School of Engineering, said. “As of now, we have over 35 student organizations and they usually do not have dedicated space for their activities. A lot of the students’ projects, including our senior design projects, were done in separate department laboratories, so we thought if we would set aside space with prototyping equipment for students to do the design first, then move to fabrication, it would be very valuable.”

As SIUE moved ahead with its plans to create a new student design center, Grady stepped forward.

A civil engineering graduate from SIUE in 1972, Grady made an initial gift of $300,000 to kickstart the Student Design Center project. It was the first private donation toward the project.

Grady later contributed an additional $400,000 for Phase II of the project, including the Innovation Loft, and acquired naming rights for the second floor.

The total cost for the Student Design Center is nearly $6 million, half of which came from university funds, with the remaining coming from private donations, including the Fowler family/J.F. Electric and Ralph Korte.

Grady has also donated $300,000 to create two endowed scholarships, one in the School of Engineering and one in the School of Business, that will support entrepreneurship among engineering professionals.

“Ed Grady is one of our earlier graduates and he became a very successful entrepreneur who has started several companies,” Karacal said. “He decided to return a favor to the school by investing in it.”

As of Monday, the Innovation Loft was essentially complete, other than signage and three flat-screen video monitors.

The loft has an open, airy feel, with plenty of tables, chairs and couches that can be easily rearranged. An erasable whiteboard covers one wall and is used for calculations and messages.

The initial plan for the Innovation Loft space was to use it as a design lab where students could interact with one another on conceptual designs, and they would then go downstairs to fabricate their creations. Under the final plan, design and fabrication will take place in the same space.

“We realized that a borderless, continuous space, with a lot of collaboration opportunities and a high level of connectivity, are becoming the norm for engineering design space,” Karacal said. “Ed is coming from the West Coast, so he has been exposed to that kind of work environment. We started investigating and finding out what would be the best space for our students, and we decided to knock all the walls down and use modular furniture coupled with display devices like large monitors. Students can wirelessly connect for their projects with team space, and depending on the size, they can add or shrink the space they are using. Flexibility is important.”

During the design process for the Innovation Loft, Karacal and Chris Gordon, associate dean for the School of Engineering, visited several large companies in the St. Louis area for visual inspiration.

“We wanted to get a first-hand observation of what type of spaces their engineers work in,” Karacal said. “That kind of guided our idea and Ed Grady was very much on board with this new space. As we put our drafts together, we interacted with Ed and he was quite positive about the direction we were taking. We’re really proud of the new space. It’s state of the art and students aren’t going to be isolated in cubicles while doing technical work. It’s a multi-disciplinary area because computer science and engineering go hand in hand now. If you don’t get that experience at school, you’re going to struggle when you graduate and get a job. They’re getting a taste of what they will do in the industry.”

The two office suites at the Innovation Loft, consisting of four offices, each are named after pioneering SIUE engineering faculty members Dr. Alfred Korn and Dr. Harry Duffey, who both had Grady as a student.

“They were both kind of demanding professors and they pushed Ed to do his best,” Karacal said. “He really appreciates what they have done for shaping his character and his professional life.”

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