Innovation Engine Joins the Innovation Quarter Community

5 minute read

There is a new kid on the innovation block. The Center for Design Innovation (CDI), a new Wake Forest Innovation Quarter tenant, celebrated the grand opening of its new facility on Sept. 23.

Located on a four-acre tract at 450 Design Avenue off Rams Drive, the CDI building is the first facility to open in the South District of the Innovation Quarter.

The CDI, a multicampus research center of the University of North Carolina system, is a joint venture of two local UNC schools – the UNC School of the Arts and Winston-Salem State University – along with Forsyth Technical Community College. The Center works broadly with members of academic, business and community organizations across the region, state, nation and world.

The CDI moved from its temporary location in Winston Towers to its new 24,000-square-foot facility in the South District of the Innovation Quarter. This permanent home features facilities for learning and production in advanced creative, digital manufacturing and imaging technologies.

Pamela L. Jennings, PhD, director of the Center for Design Innovation, took the time to share thoughts on its place in the Innovation Quarter community.


Q: How would you best describe the role and function of CDI?

A: The CDI is an engine for incubating North Carolina’s discovery economy. Connecting the region to the state and beyond, this world-class facility is a uniquely adaptable research and learning environment that blends creative, technical, applied and scientific disciplines. We are developing our CUBE facility to support leading-edge research and creative productions from immersive performance, big-data visualizations and 3D cinema to augmented reality and motion capture. We welcome lifelong learners to our design studios to learn new creative and technical skills in “making,” connect with thought leaders in the discovery economy and transform the spark of great ideas into new projects and prototypes for a brighter future.

Q: You have a diverse background leading prestigious organizations in the arts, science and technology. How have your skills as an entrepreneur and innovator helped you lead the CDI?

A: I have had many unique opportunities to grow as an artist, computer scientist, teacher, federal grants officer and entrepreneur. Each experience has built on the last, contributing new models for creativity, discovery and innovation. For example, from IBM research I learned the value of a small idea and how it can blossom into a technology that has profound impact on everyday computing, such as the IBM TrackPoint mouse. At the Banff Centre, I learned the importance of incubation, time, resources and fellowship to spark creative genius at the Advanced Research Technology Lab that I directed. As a program officer at the National Science Foundation, I realized the influence that a group of people doing service for their country can have on advancing society through research. All of these experiences coalesce in the programs developing at the CDI.

Q: Can you give us a glimpse into what goes on each day at CDI?

A: A great way to see what happens at the CDI is through our Discover CDI video on YouTube.

We are developing new programs that will scale from our program foundations in design thinking and maker activities. Since moving into the building last spring, we have hosted many campus and community activities and meetings from the Small Business and Technology Development Center, BioTechnology Center and Stratford Rotary Club to the monthly meetings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Winston-Salem chapter. We have held workshops on creativity for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Public School teachers in collaboration with the Winston-Salem State University continuing education program and workshops on leadership awareness for girls in middle school in collaboration with the Center for Creative Economy, Salem College, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art and the YWCA. On Oct. 28, 2015, we will host the Winston-Salem Tech Council Tech Briefing.

Q: How is your research center playing a key role in innovation in the region?

A: We serve as a catalyst for economic development by bridging the manufacturing history of the Piedmont Triad Region to workforce futures in the creative technologies and digital manufacturing sectors. As a matter of fact, we recently received a research grant from the National Science Foundation in an area called cyber-manufacturing to support the development of new applications for learning and education that incorporate wireless sensor networks, also known as “the Internet of Things.” This project will be the foundation for a research platform integrating engineering, computer science, design, learning sciences and creativity that will expand into new forms of inquiry, discovery and innovation at the CDI.

Q: How does CDI fit into the picture at Innovation Quarter?

A: Innovation Quarter is the perfect location for CDI. The collaboration demonstrates a connection across the university and community college stakeholders in Winston-Salem. Its location helps emphasize CDI as a nexus point between our local institutions of higher education, while placing it in the hub of regional, state, national and international activities in innovation, discovery and entrepreneurship.

Q: How have your experiences impacted the way you direct the CDI?

A: During my young adult years in New York City, nearly two and a half decades ago, I auditioned for Meredith Monk’s opera “Atlas.” My goal actually was not to be a cast member. I had already taken voice lessons with Meredith Monk’s vocal coach Jeannette LoVetri and colleague Robert Een. Rather, like many of my activities during that time, I was looking for the experience, exposure and new knowledge I could gain from taking risks. And, yes, I did make it to callbacks. This type of inquiry and quest for creative experimentation through risk with the hope of gaining the reward of new experiences and knowledge is what we envision for the CDI.

For more information, visit the Center for Design Innovation website.