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NSF Grant Enables City Tech to Establish 'Fuse Lab' to Teach Advanced Tech Skills at Associate Degree Level

City Tech Fuse Lab faculty and staff participants include, from left to right: Marie Segares, Gerarda Shields, Huseyin Yuce, Shelley E. Smith, Sanjive Vaidya, Claudia Hernandez, Anne Leonhardt and Brian Ringley. Not pictured: Alexander Aptekar, Hamidreza Norouzi, Paul King and Tony Cioffi. Photo credit: Crystal Huang.

How do you hook students on technological careers while ensuring they have the fundamentals to succeed in rapidly changing industries?

With this question in mind, City Tech has set up a “Fuse Lab” for students earning associate degrees in architectural technology, construction management technology and civil engineering technology.

The project, which is transforming the way these subjects are taught at City Tech, has been launched with the support of an $877,322 three-year grant from the National Science Foundation/Advanced Technological Education program (NSF/ATE).

The Fuse Lab is supporting the development of new courses and tutorials in the key areas of building information modeling (BIM), sustainability or “green” technology, and digital fabrication. Projects and assignments will be continuously tweaked for workplace relevance in collaboration with project advisors and industry partners.

For example, students in second-year architectural technology and civil engineering technology courses will work together on the design of steel frame structural components for buildings designed in architectural studios. Utilizing powerful computational tools for 3D modeling and analysis, team members can immediately see the consequences of a given architectural or engineering decision in a collaborative process that mirrors the 21st century workplace.

From left to right: Architectural Technology students Sittha Siriprakaisak, Ariel Mejia and Brigitta Purnamasari at the recent Fuse Lab 'Intersections' symposium held at City Tech.

Located near City Tech, City Poly High School is a partner in the Fuse Lab. There, the project’s emphasis is on enhancing summer programs for high school freshmen and mathematics programs by focusing on career awareness, real-world applications and foundational math preparation.

“Technological advances in these industries are encouraging the ‘fusion’ of architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) teams in today’s workplace by allowing real time, continuous collaboration that was never before possible,” says Shelley Smith, City Tech’s architectural technology department chair and the project’s director. “We want to prepare our students to meet the challenges today and give them a foundation for future developments.”

Smith is a registered architect with significant project management experience over three decades, including large multi-disciplinary teams and a variety of project and construction types. Among her research interests are construction and preservation technologies, and architectural history. She has been teaching at the college level since 2003.

The Fuse Lab grant is enabling faculty to develop curricula that both integrates the teaching of AEC technologies and gives students a solid foundation in mathematics. “The City Tech architectural technology department has moved away from teaching stand-alone computer courses,” Smith explains. “When the technology training is integrated, students learn the purpose, best use and underlying principles of the technologies, and are therefore better prepared and willing to learn and adapt when the next new innovation comes along.”

While Fuse Lab encompasses the three disciplines of architecture, engineering and construction management, Smith emphasizes that “it was not our goal to create a new discipline from a fusion of the three.”  Instead, she says, the three disciplines are fused into “an effective team approach in which each discipline maintains its distinct role.” Educators and practitioners involved in the Fuse Lab will be engaged at every stage for input into the curriculum process, from development through assessment.

Smith describes the curriculum as serving as “a model for other undergraduate architecture, engineering and construction programs nationally,” one that will “produce students who can take advantage of and continually adapt to the fields’ rapidly evolving computational, construction and sustainable technologies. The project will prepare students to be leaders in their industries by giving them an advantage over their peers coming out of a more traditional curriculum.”

In addition to Smith, Fuse Lab team members include City Tech’s Anne Leonhardt, Alexander Aptekar, Paul King, Sanjive Vaidya, Brian Ringley and Claudia Hernandez (architectural tech); Gerarda Shields, Hamidreza Norouzi and Department Chair Tony Cioffi (construction management/civil engineering tech); Huseyin Yuce (mathematics) and Marie Segares, City Tech’s liaison for Early College Initiatives (representing City Poly High School).

On June 1, the NSF/ATE grant funded a symposium, Intersections: Building Interdisciplinary Pedagogy/Building Integrated Practice, held at City Tech. It focusedon the topic of leading-edge technology and design and the interdisciplinary collaborations that facilitate the implementation of digital ideals into reality. The symposium included lectures and panel discussions by leading practitioners, educators and innovators in architectural computation and fabrication practice and pedagogy. An exhibition of projects and research by the City Tech team and invited participants was held in conjunction with the symposium.

Go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/nycctfab/sets/72157630049865226/ to view photos of the exhibition, and http://www.flickr.com/photos/nycctfab/sets/72157630050339472/ for photos of the symposium.

The Fuse Lab project marks the second time since 2010 that City Tech has received a NFS/ATE grant.  The first supports a Mechatronics Center that enables City Tech faculty members and students, as well as high school pupils, to participate in multidisciplinary engineering activities, such as robotics competitions.

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