As part of a massive collaborative effort, Otterbein University announced last week the creation of a new Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math Innovation Center.

As part of a massive collaborative effort, Otterbein University announced last week the creation of a new Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math Innovation Center.

The center is the result of partnerships among a variety of local businesses as well as the city of Westerville, and aims to build relationships with those companies and provide opportunities for students.

The center will focus on hands-on and practical applications involving a variety of studies, working with companies that someday could hire the Otterbein students who work in the center.

Mark Thresher, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Nationwide, also a chairman of Otterbein's board of trustees, called the center "one of the boldest initiatives Otterbein has ever taken."

"I think Otterbein is truly setting the pace as a leader in higher education with the STEAM initiative," he said at an announcement event Friday, Feb. 19. "In fact, we think the program is so unique, it may be the only one in the country."

Otterbein leaders put an emphasis on the collaborative nature of the project, and Otterbein President Kathy Krendl said the university has lofty goals for the center.

"The workings of the innovation center align with many of the objectives of the Westerville economic development plan," she said. "In fact, conservative estimates indicate that the direct impact of the STEAM innovation project will result in the creation of 200 jobs in the next five years, totaling $16 million in payroll. And the state and local tax impact over five years is projected to be $3.6 million."

City Manager David Collinsworth echoed Krendl's sentiments, saying the city is "very proud" to have the center in its backyard, and it "fulfills a specific vision in our economic development strategy."

"From the city's perspective, we've charted a course for economic development to attract both businesses and talent to jobs in the future," he said.

"The participants in this initiative offer assets that will further position Westerville as a regional economic destination."

Gary Maul, director of Otterbein's systems engineering program, emphasized the importance of building relationships with local businesses. He said creating opportunities for students is critical.

"The emphasis of our training and education in engineering is going to be practical, experiential education along with the knowledge which is consistent with the mission and vision of Otterbein," he said. "So we're very excited about this, and I know the students are very excited."

One of those excited students is Mikayla Knerr, a freshman systems engineering major who was the only student on stage for the event.

Knerr thanked the administration on behalf of students, and said the center will help her continue to excel outside of the classroom.

"Because I'm at Otterbein, I've already attended two conferences, I already have internship opportunities and I'm applying to start a new college interest group, the society of women engineers," she said.

"These things are only possible for me as a freshman because Otterbein and professors like Dr. Maul want me to be prepared for what it means to be an engineer in the 21st century. The new STEAM Innovation Center means every opportunity and goal I have multiplies," she added.

Renovation to the center's building at 60 Collegeview Road began in early January. Work will be completed in a "tiered approach."

Business partners will move into the facility next summer, and Otterbein's engineering program will start the 2016-17 school year in the center.

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