The College of Human Ecology currently houses the Digital Design and Fabrication Studio, which is open to students from across campus and includes a wood shop, electronics studio, assembly studio, paint room, laser studio and 3D Print studio.

$13.5M gift to Human Ecology supports design across disciplines

The College of Human Ecology has received a $13.5 million gift commitment to support cross-college design research and collaboration across disciplines. The gift includes funding for a new 15,000-square-foot design makerspace on the Ithaca campus, a 2,500-square-foot design studio in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall and a new scholarship fund for Human Ecology undergraduates in the Department of Human Centered Design.

“These new spaces and resources will be a tremendous asset to our students and faculty, significantly advancing the university’s strengths in research and teaching around truly human-centered, human-empathic design,” President Martha E. Pollack said. “I’m deeply grateful for these thoughtful gifts, and for the impact they will have across and beyond the College of Human Ecology: driving innovation and engagement, and enriching our entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Students train to run the equipment in the new student-empowered design and makerspace in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, which has two 3D printers and a laser cutter.

The new design makerspace will meet increased demand from faculty and students across campus for a large, unstructured and flexible research facility for developing new prototypes as well as for testing interactive large-scale designs that center human needs and desires. The space will provide a valuable resource for the multicollege Department of Design Tech. The facility will have broad fabrication capabilities, including equipment for robotics, computer-aided manufacturing, wood and light metals fabrication, and augmented/virtual reality. A suitable site on the Ithaca campus is being studied, and a timeline for design and construction is under development.

The design makerspace will also enhance Cornell’s entrepreneurship programs by aiding in the development of ideas and technology that can later be commercialized. “This big makerspace is a missing piece in Cornell’s entrepreneurship ecosystem,” said Zach Shulman ’87, J.D. ’90, director of Entrepreneurship at Cornell. “I am so excited by the possibilities of this space and how it will foster collaboration among our great students and with industry.”

Funding also supported the renovation of the historic Human Ecology auditorium in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall into a state-of-the-art design collaboration and fabrication studio. This student-empowered space, the first of its kind at Cornell, includes areas for classes, group work and individual study, as well as digital small-scale fabrication equipment like 3-D printers and laser cutters – all accessible 24/7 to design students starting this fall.

In addition, the gift will endow a new undergraduate scholarship in the Department of Human Centered Design in the College of Human Ecology, which houses the university’s largest undergraduate design majors with programs in design and environmental analysis, fashion design and management, and fiber science.

“This remarkable investment in our design facilities and students will help keep Cornell at the forefront of design education and innovation,” said Rachel Dunifon, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology. “This gift reflects the donors’ strong belief in using empathetic design principles to improve human lives in every context and at every scale. I am grateful for their generosity and vision.”

Robin Roger is assistant dean for communications for the College of Human Ecology.

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