Five states and 1,500 miles separate students at Lane College, a historically Black college of approximately 1,200 students in Jackson, Tennessee, and the 120,000 students across Arizona State University’s multiple campuses.
Despite their differences in size and location, however, both institutions share common values of innovation, student empowerment and fostering the well-being of their local communities.
In support of these values, Lane College is collaborating with the Luminosity Lab, an ASU student-led think tank that spearheads challenges for clients in industry, academia and government, to build a community hub for student-driven innovation.
The project will transform a plot of land adjacent to Lane College from an old, vacant gas station to a formal part of the campus. The land was designated as an Opportunity Zone, acquired by the school through a national development program that encourages long-term investments in low-income areas to bolster local economies.
During a visit to Luminosity Lab last year, Logan Hampton, the president of Lane College, was inspired by the interdisciplinary, collaborative and student-driven nature of the lab. Wanting to create a space to foster a similar initiative at Lane College, Hampton naturally turned to students to design, create and execute his vision.
Mark Naufel, executive director of Luminosity Lab, sees the collaboration between campuses as a model for spreading innovation and student impact to institutions across the country.
“After four years as a lab, we've proven this concept that if you give the students agency, they can really produce any type of innovation. And this doesn’t have to exist at just one institution,” says Naufel. “Our dream at Luminosity is to see this model of innovation that we've piloted and perfected here at ASU expand to other institutions.”
Carrying on the spirit of innovation
Greg Emery, Innovation Scholar-in-Residence at Lane College, is leading the collaboration alongside Ally Shott, an ASU architecture student and project lead at the Luminosity Lab.
“Creating this space would completely transform our college,” says Emery, who is also an ASU alumnus. “We are taking it from being isolated from the rest of the city to being a go-to place, allowing students the benefits of a small, private college while having access to services, entertainment and job opportunities that you would find throughout most bigger colleges.”
The development will include meeting rooms, entrepreneurial spaces, advising resources and local business storefront spaces to enable these opportunities for students and community members.
“I have been using what I learned at ASU and how I learned it continuously throughout my career to educate students about how to become successful innovators and entrepreneurs,” says Emery. “The approach at ASU has always been forward-thinking. Myself and my colleagues here at Lane are quite proud to work with ASU because of that mindset.”
For Shott, this was a unique opportunity to pioneer a project in her field of study and build her architectural career portfolio. Having never worked on an architecture project with the Luminosity Lab before, Shott had to lean into the knowledge from her coursework and take on a leadership role.
“Ally is an incredible student and individual. She's someone that's loved by everyone in the lab and has really made great contributions to the design team,” says Naufel. “To see her step up on this project and demonstrate leadership both with the students here in our lab, and for the students and faculty she worked with at Lane College, made us really proud.”
Students give perspective, gain opportunity
The collaboration provided an opportunity for students to contribute to their universities and gain valuable experience. Lane College students Tomiah Burrow, Emari Brown, Dezmond Jameson, Javonte Mahone, Andre McBride and Azaria Underwood contributed to the project as part of an entrepreneurship course aimed at offering hands-on experience with project management and business interaction. They met with Shott each week to share their visions for the space and their wants and needs as students.
“It was very cool to talk to each of the students and get to know what their college life and experience is like,” says Ally. “I wanted to know how their experience is lacking and how my design and this development could make their lives better.”
According to Emery, a majority of Lane College’s students are first-generation college students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. It was important to give students a voice in the process and the opportunity to gain experience collaborating on a major project.
Though the collaboration between Lane College and ASU is years in the making, the goal of fostering opportunity and resilience in Black education spaces has never been so timely, according to Naufel.
“At Luminosity we've always had a diverse group of students. But it’s also really important that we can partner with a historically Black institution like Lane College, and bring that perspective to our students,” says Naufel. “The hope is that we would have this type of engagement with historically Black and other minority institutions as a priority at universities across the country.”
Building room for future projects
For the Luminosity Lab, the Lane College project’s success is a catalyst to pursue additional development projects and intercollegiate collaborations.
“At Luminosity our mission is to see how many students we can engage throughout the globe,” says Naufel. “This is an entry point for increasing the amount of students we have engaged. We will be able to take on not just bigger projects, but more projects with an even wider audience of discipline types, and expand the partners we have.”
“We will definitely be taking on more architectural projects, because working on this project introduced me to the concept of Opportunity Zones and how they can solve big problems in underserved communities,” says Shott. “These are big problems that I think Luminosity Lab has yet to really delve into. For the future, I'd love to see us work together on large-scale development projects to better our communities at a global level.”