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In the zone at Rush Rhees Library’s iZone

February 16, 2018
rendering showing students walking and sitting in an open meeting space

Artist rendering of the University of Rochester iZone, which is slated to open in Rush Rhees Library

“Great innovation starts with great teams, and a great team is one that brings a wide variety of skills, personalities, and experiences to the table,” says Julia Maddox, director of the University of Rochester’s Barbara J. Burger iZone at the River Campus Libraries. “Sometimes the best solutions are the most unexpected ones, and they are often the result of untraditional collaborations.”

iZone, currently under development in Rush Rhees Library, performs triple duty as a program, a community, and a space. The program offers workshops and services to help students learn how to turn their ideas into projects that can be carried out to address problems in unique ways. Accordingly, one of its main functions is to encourage the formation of interdisciplinary links that could lead to exciting and unusual interactions.

“It’s natural to gravitate to people similar to ourselves, so iZone has been experimenting with ways to increase interdisciplinary crossover,” says Maddox. “We want to help individuals bring their collective skillset and look for opportunities to introduce diverse voices and talents that catalyze their efforts.”

iZone is student-driven, and was created in response to undergraduate students’ expressed desire for a collaborative space for innovation. Students have been heavily involved in the planning process, and iZone’s spaces and programs are tailored to serve their needs. One of those needs is for a place that encourages experimentation without judgment—a balance that’s not always easy to accomplish in a classroom setting.

“There are a lot of students who don’t always feel comfortable sharing their ideas,” says Joshua Bazirake ’20, who joined iZone as a student employee in summer 2017. “So supporting students is what iZone is all about.”

A student leading a discussion in a room with whiteboards and brightly painted walls in Rush Rhees Library

Joshua Bazirake ’20 talks with fellow students at the “Lean Canvas Interactive Workshop” in Rochester’s Rush Rhees Library. The two-hour long interactive workshop encouraged participants to discover their own mission and vision through the creation of a Lean Canvas. The event was co-hosted by the Barbara J. Burger iZone and the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship. (University of Rochester photo / Jeanette Colby)

Bazirake, a business major from Kampala, Uganda, is a co-founder of the University’s student organization Kwetu African Entrepreneurship and a recent second-place winner in Startup Weekend Social Impact New York. He understands the need to have a diverse team in order to develop ideas. Bazirake traveled to Costa Rica at age 17 to attend the United World College. There he embarked on his first entrepreneurial venture with a couple of friends.

“We set up a retail shop, because there were no night snacks, or what was there was not enough,” he says. He and his partners located unused storage space and then connected with suppliers. Their project was both a for-profit venture and a venture in social entrepreneurship. Bazirake and his friends gave some of their profits to other student organizations, and to support students at the school.

Construction for the iZone is underway, and expected to be completed by fall 2018. The 7,000 square feet space is named after Barbara J. Burger, an alumna and trustee of the University of Rochester. Her life-long passion for libraries and innovation inspired her to give the foundational gift for the iZone.

Since libraries have always supported and encouraged inspiration, innovation, and imagination, Rush Rhees was seen as the ideal home for iZone. But it will connect multiple campus resources. Many of the programs that take place at iZone, for example, will be in partnership with the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship, the Rochester Center for Community Leadership, the Gwen M. Greene Center for Career Education and Connections, as well as the University faculty, and others.

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Category: University News