Inside INdiana Business

MUNCIE, Ind.—Ball State will use a $20 million, four-year grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to enhance its innovative, immersive, educational experiences for students in digital technology, and the grant will fund other educational and research initiatives that may have the potential to produce economic opportunities.

Ball State had already taken steps toward creating a new educational model that uses technology to facilitate collaborative projects with partners across campus, at other institutions and across the world, including digital industry professionals. The university’s push to create this new educational model received a substantial boost in 2001 with a $20 million gift from the Endowment, dubbed the Media Design Initiative, which built on the university’s existing strengths in applied research and allowed faculty and students to spawn interdisciplinary projects in digital media design, digital content development and the testing of digital communications technology.

The design initiative funded the establishment of Ball State’s Center for Media Design (CMD) and several other endeavors that have significantly enhanced Ball State’s reputation, including:

· the groundbreaking Middletown Media Studies. Sponsored by CMD, the studies employed observational research techniques to track the daily media usage habits of Americans, and the studies’ results have received national and international attention;

· the award-winning “Brain” project, also sponsored by CMD, which won an award from Billboard magazine for Best Use of Technology for Educational Programming, beating out competitors that included The Walt Disney Co. The “Brain” used commercial software developed by Brain Technologies of Santa Monica, Calif., to help lead students through simulated case studies in social work, nursing, criminal justice, and speech pathology; and

· a major investment in video production equipment, including high-definition cameras, that provided students with tools they used to create a Student Academy Award-winning movie and Emmy Award-winning television programs.

“Ball State has solidified its reputation as being one of the most technologically advanced digital educational environments in the nation,” said Ball State President Jo Ann M. Gora. “We are producing technology-savvy graduates who have benefited from in-depth, immersion learning experiences in this environment, which was recently recognized by Intel Corp. as the best wireless campus in the nation.

“This new gift from the Endowment will fund the Digital Exchange, allowing us to offer immersive learning experiences to more of our students and to encourage them and our faculty to pursue high-tech spin-off business opportunities that may arise from their research.”

The creative concepts of the Digital Exchange proposal were generated through a partnership spearheaded by Philip Repp, associate vice president for information technology, and Dave Ferguson, director of the CMD, which will play an integral role in leading the grant.

“The Digital Exchange will allow the university to innovatively and continuously exchange information through digital technology, yielding educational and possible commercial benefits,” Ferguson said. “Within this fast-changing realm, we believe the state of Indiana may have exciting opportunities to realize a new type of economic potential — one for which Ball State is already preparing students to take full advantage.”

Funding for the Digital Exchange will allow Ball State to create three immersive-learning institutes.

· The Institute for Digital Fabrication and Rapid Prototyping will meld architecture, engineering and construction into a seamless digital enterprise. It will bring together Indiana’s material suppliers — from the limestone producers in Southern Indiana to the steel mills of Gary — and connect them with designers and students worldwide to expedite the transformation of computer-generated designs into finished products on almost any scale.

· The Institute for Intermedia and Animation will put Ball State at the forefront of the three-dimensional animation industry. The institute will center on an animation studio that will immerse students in the production of intermedia art and 3-D animation.

· The Institute for Digital Entertainment and Art will be a production house to bring artistic vision to life and provide Indiana filmmakers access to a proven academic infrastructure and pool of talented students. The partnership will enable Ball State students to showcase their award-winning talents on a daily basis to up-and-coming filmmakers while building relationships that may grow as the students and filmmakers progress in their careers.

Administrative oversight for instituting the grant will be provided by Deborah Balogh, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, and O’Neal Smitherman, vice president for information technology.

By building the university’s media research and testing capability and an enhanced test bed, Ball State will be able to serve as an effective intermediary between industry and consumers, Smitherman said.

“Changes and upgrades in digital media increase exponentially, and end users want results in seconds, not minutes,” he said. “This incessant pace — matched by hyperactive demand — often sees new technologies launched without having sufficient evidence of public demand for the product. Not surprisingly, many of these untested endeavors tank.

“But Ball State will be in a position to provide an invaluable service that will give students and faculty opportunities to conduct cutting-edge, industry-oriented research and enhance the university’s reputation, while also forming relationships that could have positive economic benefits.”

Lilly Endowment has been most pleased and excited with the progress Ball State has made since the 2001 grant for the Media Design Initiative, said Sara B. Cobb, Endowment vice president for education.

“The faculty, staff and students have shown great imagination and creativity in their endeavors to make the best possible educational and professional use of the new technologies that are having such an impact on the ways we communicate with each other.

“The Endowment believes that the Media Design Initiative has had a major impact on the university and its national image. This new grant will increase the number of learning experiences for students, especially by strengthening the connections among professors, undergraduate and graduate students, and media industry professionals. This ‘triad’ approach is a most promising model. The programs that this new round of funding will support will build on the university’s positive national momentum and foster the initiative’s ongoing sustainability,” she said.

Source: Ball State University