iZone, a community with the goal of empowering students to think outside of the box when confronted with a problem, has a newly renovated home in Rush Rhees library that matches the personality of its mission.
With hanging-globe light fixtures, movable tables and chairs, blue and yellow diner booths, and whiteboards and outlets everywhere, iZone Director Julia Maddox hoped the “playful and quirky” space will emphasize their mission for inspiring creative problem-solving and thinking.
“[iZone is] very intentionally in the library where everyone feels like they have access,” Maddox said. “It’s not in the business school where only people who want to go into business will find it. It’s not in engineering where only people who identify as an engineer will go. Because truly, that’s the intention of iZone — to be a creative problem space for all students where they can go to figure out their path towards making a difference in the world.”
iZone was originally a student idea that transformed over the years into an actual program. It replaced the space where ITS was and will open to the public this Monday, now with handicap-accessible. ITS has moved from the desk in Gleason to a new center filled with computers that is adjacent to iZone.
Though Maddox welcomed students to come and study in iZone, she hoped many would find a more creative use for it.
“Of course we hope that people will still come and study here,” Maddox said. “Our job is to help convince people that they can do more though. That they can be creating solutions and can expand their creative capacity for innovation.”
The new space will also accommodate well with the events and design-thinking workshops planned for this semester, with various project rooms scattered throughout the space.
There are no doors to any of the project rooms, as iZone stresses collaborativity and opens up its workshops and events to all.
The most successful events iZone has had are Screw Up Nights and Creators & Catalyst. Screw Up Nights is a storytelling event where students and faculty share with each other their failures. Creators & Catalyst is a live interview with a changemaker who saw a problem in the world and made a difference.
iZone is also piloting a semester-long career center course this fall called ‘Rock Your Life,’ which will focus on design thinking and how it can help students explore meaningful careers.
According to Maddox, iZone had 1,200 meaningful connections last year with students by assisting and counseling them. She attributed this success to the students on her team.
“Our student-lead model is the reason that this works and the reason we’ve been ahead,” Maddox said. “Having undergraduates as apart of the leadership team, not just as the people doing the work but the people coming up with the ideas, has been our unfair advantage in the best sense.”
Students currently part of iZone are excited to double those meaningful connections in the future.
“I hope this becomes a place where students feel comfortable, supported, and included,” student-hire and sophomore Anush Mehrabyan said. “I want people to feel as good as possible here. There’s only […] good vibes — a positive spot . This should be a place where students have an idea and they have the necessary resources […] for that idea to take off.”
However, iZone’s main goal this year is to cultivate a cultural shift to innovative thinking on campus.
“Other universities have been implementing [design-thinking] into their classroom for years,” student intern and sophomore Ewin Joseph said. “It is only now that we at the University of Rochester are thinking of implementing that into the classroom. I just want to be a part of that change. Having that mentality, that openness we have here at iZone, we can push that culture onto other professors and departments.”