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Ellie McCluey | December 8, 2022

What is the Wond’ry with Deanna Meador

Often described as an “epicenter for innovation”, Vanderbilt’s Wond’ry is equipped with all of the components of a stimulating environment. From countless whiteboards and open-concept collaboration studios to a complete Fiber Arts Lab, the Wond’ry is sure to leave anyone inspired. Not only is the building itself an incubator for inspiration, but its faculty and students are passionate and driven to foster innovation within the Vanderbilt community. A common misconception is that it is solely for engineering students. However, the Wond’ry is one of the only places on campus where all Vanderbilt students can come together to collaborate. The Wond’ry is “[open to] any college or school, [as well as] faculty, student, staff, [and] alumni” says Deputy Director, Deanna Meador. Moreover, there are four core fields of focus: Making, Innovation and Design Research, Social Innovation, and Entrepreneurship. The Wond’ry offers everything from credit courses to workshops and it specializes in everything from inequity in education to manufacturing medical devices. Through a student-centered approach, the Wond’ry guides students through a collaborative innovation process that facilitates co-creation in all areas of life.

Making With Kevin Galloway

The Makerspace makes up most of the second floor of the Wond’ry. Upon completion of an hour-long safety seminar, students have access to sewing machines, industrial grade 3-D printers,  software programs and more. Director of Making Kevin Galloway explains that, “We don’t want cost to be a barrier to access [these resources], we want people to come in and try things and find what works and what doesn’t work […] At no other point in your life is trying and failing going to be so cheap”. The Makerspace supports all levels of making and is available for prototyping, class projects, and even hobby creation. Even if you don’t have an idea, just being in this space is sure to inspire one. The Fiber Arts Lab is also a key component of the Makerspace, offering introductory sewing and embroidery workshops. The Fiber Arts Lab, directed by Alexandra Sargent Capps, also partners with other divisions of the Vanderbilt Community such as the theater department designing costumes and the Nursing Department creating antistress garments. 

Social Innovation With Jackie Hansom

The Social Innovation branch of the Wond’ry covers everything from climate change to social inequity. Jackie Hanson, Program Manager of Social Innovation, describes the branch as “[a combination of] the ideas of co-creation and co-leading […] Whether it’s planning, helping lead, helping reflect, [or] helping build the new things we’re doing, we currently have students that were in the program in the past [and] students that are [just starting] now that are a part of all of those elements”. A major resource students are offered is the Social Innovation Bootcamp during both semesters for students with a passion for social innovation. It is a five week program that provides a great foundation for students to explore the different areas of innovation and potentially advance to the Social Changemakers program. Social Changemakers is a rigorous 10-week program that provides students with the tools they need to learn in a way that can actually make a difference in their community. The Social Innovation department is partnered with several organizations around Nashville including the Mayor’s Office, Hands On Nashville, and Project Safe/Title IX to maximize the capacity to promote change. The department also offers Speaker Series for students that have an interest in social entrepreneurship. 

Innovation and Design Research with Mandy Lalrindiki

The Innovation and Design Research sector of the Wond’ry is focused on the design thinking component of innovation. Students are welcome to attend Innovation and Design Bootcamps where they will gain access to the tools necessary to create a successful idea. Mandy Lalrindiki, Assistant Director of Innovation and Design Research, expresses that “People’s ideas are so weird that they cannot exist anywhere else on campus […] We incubate it here”. Students are encouraged to dream up bizarre ideas that have the potential to become something tangible and successful. The Wond’ry utilizes “Design as an Immersive Vanderbilt Experience”, or DIVE, to facilitate the birth of new ideas. Students learn to empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test their ideas to create something substantial.

 The Innovation and Design Research branch also offers a Quantum Studio that works alongside three quantum companies in the Nashville area. “Usually you need a PhD or a Postdoc to have a career in quantum, but undergrads don’t have that [experience]” states Mandy. The studio offers an eight-month program that helps students gain access to the quantum industry without the need for a PhD and prepares them for internships and job opportunities through their partnerships. The program educates students on the core components of the quantum industry and exposes them to networking opportunities as well. 

Entrepreneurship with Charleson Bell

Finally, the Entrepreneurship branch of the Wond’ry emphasizes the importance of compassion for influencing entrepreneurial innovation. In order to find success in the field of business, it is vital to be able to empathize with people and recognize a need in the community around you. The first step of the Entrepreneurship process is the Sullivan Family Ideator, a catch-all program for any idea that can drive positive change. “When you come here, we don’t judge your ideas […] what we do is we teach you a process about how to go about innovation and how to go about customer discovery to tweak your idea in the right direction,” says Charleson Bell, Director of Entrepreneurship. The Ideator program is used to establish that an idea has value and helps a need as well as provide an outline for implementing it. 

The second step of the process is known as Builder. The Builder program provides students with tools that can help turn ideas into a tangible product or service with the potential to develop into a business. The Wond’ry works alongside I-Corps to provide students with microgrants at the end of the Ideator and Builder series. I-Corps also allows STEM ideas to be eligible for a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation through the national I-Corps program. While several of the successful enterprises have come from alumni and graduates, “some of the most successful ventures have been undergrads” says Bell. 

The third step for success is known as Founder, a support program that  helps entrepreneurs through the startup process of creating a business. Several startups have been launched with the help of the Wond’ry through this incubator program.

The Wond’ry is truly an underrated resource at Vanderbilt University. The facilitation of creation through diverse teams produces an inclusive innovation process that cannot be found anywhere else. Kevin Galloway said it best: “it will never be so cheap to fail. But it will also never be so easy to succeed. All the resources are at our fingertips and The Wond’ry offers the perfect collaborative environment that is best described as an incubator for innovation.”