Design Innovation Initiative leads KSU to top 200 “maker school” ranking


One of the Design Innovation Hub’s rooms, which can be easily reorganized and adjusted. Feb 4, 2021.

Sophie Young Reporter

The first collaboration between Newsweek and Make has named Kent State one of the top 200 “maker schools” in higher education. 

Kent State’s Design Innovation Initiative is a program dedicated to “cross-disciplinary collaboration,” according to J.R. Campbell, executive director of the DII. Students from every major are invited to problem solve and create together. 

A maker space, which Campbell prefers to call a maker environment, is a space for students to collaborate on projects across disciplines. Campbell highlights DI’s focus on creating together. “In its best iteration, maker environments are community-building spaces,” he said.

Today, the initiative is housed in the Design Innovation Hub, the building that contains the university’s main maker spaces. There are also 27 “nodes” extending the program’s reach across campus. 

Kent State has a history of creative spaces scattered across campus. In his previous position as director of Kent State’s fashion school, Campbell knew of about five. He reached out to leaders from other colleges and schools within the university and found the number is closer to 25 maker spaces.

He and his team helped to sponsor students’ involvement in Stanford University’s Innovation Fellows program, which served as a model for centralizing Kent State’s creative spaces. 

“One of the things that every student in that program had to do was a landscape map of their university to think about where the innovation lies and where the gaps are,” Campbell said. 

From there, the team developed the idea of the Design Innovation Hub.

The centralized hub found a home in the 1971 Art Building designed by Harvard graduate and award-winning architect John Andrews. It was remodeled in the fall 2020, complete with a virtual grand opening.

The 2021 rating isn’t the first time Kent State has won awards for its collaborative spaces. Great Value Colleges placed Kent at sixth of the top 50 collegiate makerspaces in 2019, before the DI Hub even opened its doors.

Newsweek and Make: Magazine included Kent State in their unranked list of 200 schools worldwide. Other Ohio schools that appeared on the list were Case Western Reserve University, Ohio University, Otterbein University, the University of Cincinnati and the University of Akron’s Wayne College.

“Our goal was to highlight institutions with innovative programs that demonstrate the ingenuity and community engagement that are hallmarks of the maker movement,” Newsweek said.

A focus on hands-on learning, diverse community development and capable maker spaces were the factors the rankers were looking into for the list.

“Neither of those entities contacted us at all,” said Campbell of Great Value Colleges and Newsweek. The 2019 Great Value Colleges review was the first time Kent State has appeared on a list of top maker schools. 

“I hope that these rankings or ratings helped to bring more visibility, but also helped inspire some students to think differently about why they would choose to come here.”

Sophie Young is a reporter.