UA technology lab shifts focus, guidance

by Jeff Della Rosa ( 197 views 

McMillon Innovation Studio at the University of Arkansas recently underwent changes in leadership and how student teams select projects.

Jessica Salmon, director of the McMillon Innovation Studio, has been leading the retail technology lab, and former program manager Danny Allred no longer works there. His temporary position ended in October, said Brent Williams, associate dean of executive education and outreach in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the UA.

Students in August started to select projects from three focus areas: health and well-being, seamless commerce and supply chain. Previously, businesses would develop projects on which the students would work, but after receiving student and company feedback, the studio changed the selection process. The studio continues to evolve based on feedback, Salmon said.

The studio has 35 students across multiple disciplines working in teams to develop digital products for consumers, such as apps, and new service delivery models. Their advisers include retail and consumer products suppliers and healthcare industry leaders.

“We view the studio as a way for students to have the freedom to take their ideas in directions that are led by the consumer discovery process, while we provide them with mentoring, workshops and physical resources [e.g. prototyping, makerspace, etc.],” Salmon said. “Our advisory councils learn alongside the students.”

In one project, a team leader is looking to increase the access of healthy food for busy families while being economical. This past fall, the leader interviewed busy families, reframed the problem and developed insights from empathy maps and brainstorming. This semester, the team leader is focused on a main idea and will start to prototype and get back with the families for insights and make changes if needed. His advisers are the American Heart Association, Community Clinic NWA and Chartwells.

The teams are expected to complete their projects in April, and they will present their work at a demo day, allowing them to pitch their prototypes to the community, Salmon said.