Funding Of $1.5 Million Approved As Part Of Build Back Better Regional Challenge Grant

Funding of $1.5 million through the Build Back Better Regional Challenge Grant has been allocated for an entrepreneurial makerspace ecosystem that will include Indiana University of Pennsylvania STEAMSHOP robotics and electronics satellite site in Armstrong County and Made in Johnstown in Cambria County.

The funding is provided by the ARM (Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing) Institute as part of the Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative that received a $62.7 million federal Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant awarded by the U.S. Economic

Development Administration (U.S. EDA) in September 2022 with an emphasis on robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). Headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA The ARM Institute is the nation’s leading robotics and AI Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

The BBBRC grant award includes the 11-county region of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington, and Westmoreland.

“Investments in innovative and collaborative approaches to education are key to helping expand our next generation’s workforce,” Senator Joe Pittman said. “The programs offered as a result of this funding will help students in throughout our region, to develop their skillsets and remain competitive in an ever increasing technologically dependent world.”

IUP’s STEAMSHOP (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) makerspace is a university-wide collaboration, with a goal of engaging diverse populations, improving

digital literacy, and creating an integrated training and research program in design thinking, prototyping, digital fabrication, robotics, and AI to capitalize on IUP’s current strengths and develop key partnerships across campus and the region.

“IUP is very proud to be part of this important regional initiative and to serve as the hub of this exciting tri-county STEAMSHOP project,” IUP President Dr. Michael Driscoll said. “This project builds on our faculty and programmatic strengths and reflects our commitment to enhancing the economic vitality of our regional community,” he said.

“A project like this also reflects a great deal of collaboration within the university community, and I want to offer my appreciation to all of the good work that has been done by our

University Advancement Division, our School of Graduate Studies and Research, and members of our Division of Academic Affairs. 

“This funding would not be possible without the ongoing support and hard work of our legislators and community leaders,” Dr. Driscoll said. “We are very grateful to them, and very excited about what an entrepreneurial makerspace can bring to our university and to our region,” he said.

This additional funding builds upon the nearly $1 million IUP received in September 2022 through the Build Back Better Regional Challenge Grant to support four initiatives at IUP,

including the IUP STEAMSHOP. Additional IUP initiatives funded by that $1 million grant include Data Analytics/Computer Science AI platforms and resources; Safety Sciences AI and Robotic Research; and Geological-Geospatial Intelligence initiatives.

This new funding, announced by the ARM Institute today, will be used to strengthen and advance the existing makerspaces at IUP and in Armstrong and Cambria counties through a “hub and spoke” model, designed to build enhanced collaboration and coordination between the three programs as well as with the other regional makerspaces across the 11-county region.  This new partnership with the ARM Institute also provides opportunities to learn and share innovations and best practices in robotics, AI and advanced manufacturing.

“Each of these facilities offer equipment and services that meet the needs of their coal-impacted regions while also sharing resources and programming across the three locations to broaden impact, leverage strengths, and reduce duplication of effort,” Dean of IUP’s School of Graduate Studies and Research Dr. Hilliary Creely said.

“The three locations provide a collaborative approach bringing valuable skills, training, and equipment to residents of the three counties,” Dr. Creely said. “Because each county has its own extended service area, this amplifies the impact and reach of this initiative and connects us all to other BBBRC assets.

Creely explained that this initiative includes use of technology to centrally coordinate educational training in entrepreneurial and business skills across all three counties, and connect to the larger BBBRC hub and entrepreneurial makerspace spokes across western Pennsylvania.

IUP’s STEAMSHOP includes a makerspace focusing on student and new user training, design thinking and teamwork, prototyping, and improving diversity in the maker community. It also leverages the IUP Eberly College of Business and the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center at IUP to provide resources for entrepreneurs.

At IUP, the new grant funds will be used to expand community access to the makerspace and its programs, augment equipment, tools, and services to support more simultaneous users and larger workshops and install new resources in robotics and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) milling.

It will also provide funding for dedicated staff for IUP’s facility and new programming, including a lecture series with visiting scholars from multicultural backgrounds; workshops on robotics for college students; summer camps for secondary students; and train-the-trainer sessions for teachers and industry professionals.

“While IUP’s STEAMSHOP is intended to enhance economic development and foster entrepreneurial interest in the region, the technological, entrepreneurial, and leadership skills gained through participation in STEAMSHOP programming firmly reflects IUP’s commitment to student-centeredness and success, helping to better prepare students for the rapidly evolving workforce,” Dr. Creely said.

Dr. Frederick (Rick) Adkins, professor of mathematics in IUP’s Mathematical and Computer Science Department, is the principal investigator for the project.

“While it is really exciting to expand the resources and services that we have at IUP for design thinking, rapid prototyping, and robotics, I am especially looking forward to being able to connect with and server more regional businesses and entrepreneurs,” Dr. Adkins said.

“The expansion of our services to include physical computing with digital sensors in the new Armstrong County IUP STEAMSHOP site and our partnership with the MADE makerspace in Johnstown provides new opportunities to collaborate and connect with residents and students across all three counties,” Dr. Adkins said.

“JARI is pleased to help connect Johnstown facilities and programs with our IUP collaborators,” JARI President Linda Thompson said. “So much more is possible when we all work together for the betterment of our region. Many thanks to the rest of the team for their work to enhance key maker spaces that equate to creative new companies.”

“Made in Johnstown is proud to partner on this IUP led initiative to develop an entrepreneurial makerspace ecosystem in our region,” Made in Johnstown Director Michael Rottmann said.“We are encouraged by the impacts this initiative will have on championing new emerging industries and vibrant creative economies. Revitalizing any region requires integrating new industries into the economy; particularly for our coal impacted region – low barrier access to the resources needed to develop new economies will be incredibly impactful; empowering for our community,” he said.

“I have seen firsthand the innovations and transformative economic impacts that makerspaces have on communities around the country and am excited for Made in Johnstown to be partnering with IUP to bring those advancements to our rural Pennsylvania region,” Rottmann said.

“What makes this makerspace ecosystem truly robust is the differing specializations, equipment, and offerings between the three partner locations, which provides a wide expanse of offerings for individuals in our region to access. As the creative economy focused makerspace location, Made in Johnstown’s mission is to provide this region’s creative economy entrepreneurs, makers and artisans all the space, equipment and resources they need to launch, streamline and grow their businesses, with the lowest cost barrier of entry possible,” Rottmann said.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for our community, and we are proud to have played a part in bringing it to fruition,” Armstrong County Commissioners Chairman Don Myers said.

“The AI Robotics Makerspace will provide hands-on learning experiences for students and give them a competitive edge in the workforce. It will also serve as a valuable resource for local companies looking to stay at the forefront of technological innovation.”

“The RIDC Armstrong Innovation Park is a vital part of our region’s economy, and this new makerspace will only enhance its value,” Armstrong County Commissioners Vice Chairman Jason Renshaw said. “We are excited to see the innovations and advancements that will come out of this facility.”

“This makerspace is a great example of how our county is making a commitment to innovation and technology,” Armstrong County Commissioners Secretary Pat Fabian said. “It will not only benefit the students and researchers at IUP, but also the entire community and local businesses. We are proud to have it located in our county.”

IUP has a longstanding commitment to research on all levels and in all disciplines. In 2021, IUP was named as one of only two public universities in Pennsylvania and one of only 93 public universities in the United States with the “High Research Activity” designation by the American Council on Education. IUP has strong expertise and programs in STEAM and connecting data analytics and applied research in worker safety, robotics, and in geospatial data.