Virginia Commonwealth University

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From MPI to IBM

“Innovation starts when all other avenues have been exhausted” according to Lauren Pleveich, a May 2015 graduate of the Masters of Product Innovation program. Lauren is now working as an Experience Architect at IBM Interactive Experience, but this wasn’t where she thought she was going to be initially.

A graduate of VCU Arts with a major in Painting and Printmaking, Lauren considered several career paths, including teaching and creative advertising. She initially started down that path by getting her Master of Fine Arts in Painting at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, but began to realize that was not the career she wanted to pursue.

Lauren’s decision to return to VCU for the MPI program was in part due to her experience in the certificate program as an undergraduate. Though she had worked on a project that she admitted to be less than glamorous in nature, she says that’s the experience to which she can trace her interest in product innovation.

“Between the team dynamics, the client rapport and working with users who were genuinely engaged, I found my passion for products. It took getting another masters in a different field to realize that though. Ah well, better late than never!”

Similar to her education, Lauren never expected to be working for IBM, nor had an interest in doing so at first. “I was very happy where I was working at the time, but decided to go to a talk by an IBM creative because I had no idea they even did creative stuff (don’t tell anyone).”

IBM Interactive Experience does just that, design user experiences, most notably for websites like the PGA Masters Tournament. As an Experience Architect, Lauren works between the research and design roles, allowing her to make use of the design thinking skills she gained through the master program.

In her work at Interactive Experience, she says she most enjoys figuring out the challenges formed by both the target users and the technologies used. “Technology has the power to change a lot of things. It just needs someone to provide the why.”

Three months into her new role at IBM, Lauren is very thankful to the master program for preparing her for the cross-functional work she does. “I’ve worked with engineers, business analysts, and other creatives and the one thing the da Vinci Center did very well was prepare me for that kind of situation.” Specifically, she’s been able to be confident in her own abilities, comfortable  not knowing “all the answers,” and instead pulling on the strengths of her teammates.

Thinking back to the master program, Lauren noted an odd difference between the first and second year of the program. “I think it’s a weird thing to show someone the importance of teamwork, but to then forgo a team project the last year.” She encouraged the incoming master students to listen, explore, experiment, and play, but most importantly, to “be productive with your time around smart people.”

72 Hours of Innovation: Design Boot Camp

No two words together tell a narrative about an experience quite like boot camp. As an incoming Master of Product Innovation student for the 2015 fall semester, eleven graduate students and myself just completed this three-day indoctrination last week. Having completed the US Army’s boot camp once upon a time, and now VCU’s Product Innovation boot camp, I can say with certainty that the two share one common theme, immersion.

For starters, day one was more like two days. This twelve-hour day started with more than nametags and handshakes, it began with introductions to the people you’re likely to see more of than most for the next two years. And at the helm of this eclectic mix of philosophers, engineers and business professionals was our navigator, Joe Cipolla. Joe not only introduced the program, but he began to give us our first glimpse of how this group of diverse grad students would use art, business and engineering to establish a product innovation foundation. Although product design began right away with Dr. Jean Gasen, what we were really discovering was collaboration styles among classmates. Not just forming impressions, but how each of us approached a problem. Before any of us could realize that we were learning laughing yoga techniques, Dr. Gasen encouraged us to challenge our assumptions of innovation.

As this immersive day continued, we were suddenly thrust into describing sensory perceptions of art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. We followed this expressive experience with a no holds barred debate and art scavenger hunt. Now that we were fairly confident we knew our classmate’s names, we got a glimpse into who among them were the most competitive! As the afternoon set in with my new MPI family, we were whisked off to Richmond’s Visual Arts Center where we learned first hand that art is a verb. Between the screen-printing, line drawing class and pottery, where we got more than a little clay under our nails, my classmates and I were learning firsthand the role art would play in our curriculum. The day concluded with something nearly all of this incoming class could relate to, local food & beer. As we laughed over suds and nachos at Home Team Grill with Joe Cipolla and Ken Kahn, I think we all agreed on one thing, if this was the first day- it was going to be an amazing experience.

Day two and three furthered this hands-on product innovation boot camp with designing prototypes at the Science Museum of Virginia to learning how machinist turn raw steel into beautifully thought-out objects at Tectonics Design Group. While being educated on how Sabra Dipping Co.’s R & D team finds the intersection of innovation and hummus, I think we each ate our body weight in chickpeas. And what is a new MPI student to do next with all of these new innovative ideas? Learn how to present them of course from two of the very best, Professor Aaron Anderson & David Leong.

Over the weekend, someone asked me “…how was the boot camp?” As I looked back over those three intense days, and all the warm smiling faces of the second year MPI students & faculty at our closing reception, the only answer I could come up with was, “I’ll let you know.” The design boot camp isn’t about three days and whetting your appetite for product innovation. It’s about immersion. It’s about design thinking and the notion that this graduate program is going to change the way we think about everything.

Post Written by Blue Crump, Current MPI Student

2015 MPI Spring Break

During Spring Break, 19 da Vinci students in the Master of Product Innovation (MPI) program and 3 faculty members had the wonderful pleasure of exploring the beautiful city of San Francisco. As part of the MPI program, students get to spend an all-expenses paid trip to visit and workshop with some of the most innovative companies in the nation. Here’s a quick look at their itinerary:

  • Jump Associates
  • Intel Museum
  • Google
  • Institute for the Future
  • Airbnb
  • Capital One Labs
  • Planisware

Throughout the week, the students had some really interesting conversations and gained a tremendous amount of inspiration to “manufacture delight” through human-centered design. Here are some highlights from their trip:

Jump Associates

It all started with their tour at Jump Associates. Strategists there focused on the importance of human-centered design and walked the students through their design thinking practice. Furthermore, the students took time to ideate around the countless revenue models for a lemonade stand – crazy how such a simple concept can have so many possibilities!

Our visit to Jump was very exciting and inspiring. Seeing the things that we do here in da Vinci in practice in the real world was quite an experience. In this picture we were participating in a daily meeting that the employees at Jump call the morning “scrum”. We mentally and physically prepared for the day by doing stretches, talking about what we were excited about for the day, and playing a fun game making up silly proverbs.


The very next day, the da Vinci’s spent the day in a private tour around the Google campus. Included in the tour were conversations with amazing speakers like Timothy Jordan (Senior Developer Advocate, Google Glass), who talked about innovation and the outlook of future products. Furthermore, the students then spent some time hands-on with Google Cardboard, talked to some of it’s developers, and brought some developer kits back to the da Vinci Center. The exciting tour then finally ended with a Google lunch outside under the beautiful sun.

The da Vincis walking the iconic steps in Google’s Building 43. This was the commencement of our tour of Google’s incredible campus in Mountain View. At the top of the steps the original server used to power Google, dubbed the cardboard server, is kept on display.

While visiting Google we were given the opportunity to experience a relatively new technology that Google is experimenting with called Cardboard. Cardboard is a ultra-inexpensive version of the advanced technology Oculus VR, a virtual reality device. A great example that technology can always be innovated to become better, faster, more adaptable, more available, or any number of things.


If the class had to pick a winner for the “Best Workplace award”, it would be Airbnb. Their office had the perfect blend of open, collaborative workspace mixed with fun and play. Their conference rooms were exact replicas of real Airbnbs all over the world! The tour however, did not stop there. The students had a very interactive Q&A session with Willow (Creative Producer @ Airbnb) and topped off the day with some wine and beer at Airbnb’s gourmet cafeteria. No wonder this company is disrupting the hospitality industry!

The foyer at Airbnb was a beautiful example of collaborative workspace.  Featuring things like a living wall, attractive furniture, open floor space, and artistic touches throughout the building, the space captivated us from the beginning.

The foyer at Airbnb was a beautiful example of collaborative workspace. Featuring things like a living wall, attractive furniture, open floor space, and artistic touches throughout the building, the space captivated us from the beginning.

Capital One Labs

Last but not least, the group spent some time at Capital One Labs, located at 101 Post Street. There, serial entrepreneurs Joshua and James spent some time going over the disruption and innovation currently happening in the banking industry and even shared some of the innovation happening right now at Capital One to change banking for good. Many of the students were impressed with the startup/hackathon culture of a tech company in a bank and had some insightful questions about inciting innovation in a yet-to-be disrupted industry.

The students and faculty come back with some unforgettable memories and insights. New connections were formed and friendships were further refined. Till next time.

Post Written by Eric Kim, Current MPI Student

Photos and captions by Hillary Hardiman, Current MPI Student

Upcoming MPI Information Session

Interested in the Master of Product Innovation program? Join us for an information session on Wednesday, January 28th from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. at 807 Cathedral Place.

Please RSVP with Dr. Frank Franzak.

MPI Info Session_ January 28 2015


MPI Graduate Jim Robb Featured on VCU News

Recent MPI graduate Jim Robb was featured in a recent article on VCU news highlighting his experience in the Master of Product Innovation program.

Learning to dream with the market in mind
da Vinci Center graduate student studies alarm fatigue and learns about himself

by Vincent Simone, University Public Affairs


Jim Robb. Photo courtesy of Gary Garbett

In 1987, Jim Robb moved out to the country near Farmville, built his own cabin – complete with solar panels – and lived Thoreau-style for two-and-a-half years, getting, as he described it, all the way back down to the basics.

Like his Transcendentalist inspiration, Robb is a dreamer – in the best sense of the word.

“I’ve always been an ideas person,” he said.

Read the full article here.

807 is Open for Innovation

IMG_0012VCU’s da Vinci Center recently held the grand opening of the new studio building, affectionately called “807.” The new building is located at 807 Cathedral Place and features state-of-the-art studio space for Master of Product Innovation students as well as undergraduate students enrolled in the certificate program.

Read the full article about the grand opening here.

VCU da Vinci Center wins RVA Creativity Award

Ten local businesses and organizations were named winners of the first-ever RVA Creativity Awards on Thursday night.

The awards program — organized by C3, the Creative Change Center — recognizes businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations that have the best examples of creativity, originality, imagination and risk-taking. It was held at the Hippodrome Theater.

More than 110 applications were received, and there were 20 finalists.

The RVA Creativity Award winners are:

• Richmond Cycling Corps : A nonprofit organization founded in 2010 that engages inner-city youth in public housing in cycling programs.

• Coffitivity : A Richmond-based website that was named among Time magazine’s 50 best websites of 2013. It enables people to stream the ambient sounds of a café to help boost their creativity.

• RVA Street Art Festival : An organization that transformed the former Cary Street bus depot into an outdoor art gallery with murals and sculpture.

• OutRVA : A campaign started by five VCU Brandcenter students to make Richmond a more welcoming and attractive city for the LGBT community.

• Light Tape : A product manufactured in Richmond by Electro-LuminX Lighting Corp., Light Tape is a durable electroluminescent light source that can bend around any surface and is adaptable to a wide range of projects.

• VCU da Vinci Center : An interdisciplinary program at Virginia Commonwealth University that brings art, business and engineering students together to collaborate on projects, the VCU da Vinci Center offers the nation’s first master’s degree in product innovation.

• Boaz & Ruth : A faith-based initiative in North Richmond that is using social entrepreneurship to help formerly incarcerated people receive housing, training and jobs.

• Batter Up : A blog, a social experiment and a movement started by graphic designer Ryn Bruce in 2013 to bake a free cake every week for a cake-worthy person in the area and to encourage people to share stories over homemade food.

• RainRaps : A water-repellent, reversible, lightweight and fashionable wrap for women. Stacy Struminger and Rachel Teyssier founded the Henrico County-based RainRap business.

• Light of Human Kindness : An interactive mural that combines art, technology and human connection. The project, initiated by Patience Salgado, features personal stories copied by hand onto the walls of one of the structures on the former GRTC headquarters property.

(via Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Call for Submissions

Auctus, the online Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creativity at VCU, is currently accepting written and creative submissions of undergraduate research and scholarship from the Arts.

Submissions will be accepted online at: through the deadline of March 15th.

Performance & Visual Arts Submission Guidelines:

We accept all media, including but not limited to: music compositions, dance performance documentations, fashion design, sculpture, photography, paintings, prints, illustrations, crafts, graphic arts, film and kinetic imagery. Please include the title, dimensions and medium of the original piece. Please send us individual files in .jpg, .mov, or .mpg file format. A single submission may contain one piece or a series of pieces that are interconnected. All visual and performance art submissions must be accompanied by a supplementary one-page, double-spaced description of the research involved in creating the work as well as a description of the work itself. Any scholarly sources should be cited in MLA format.

Creative Writing Submission Guidelines:

We accept literary fiction, non-fiction, and poetry that experiments with the form and function of the genre or, in other ways, investigates the creative process. Works that combine media or genres are encouraged. A single submission may contain one piece or a series of pieces that are interconnected. For prose pieces, there is no maximum or minimum word count, although we typically publish pieces of 1000-6000 words in length. Please include your entire submission in one file. Acceptable file formats include .doc and .rtf.

Auctus’ Creative Works editors are looking for depth of thought, creativity, originality and outstanding talent in both the creative work and written description.

For more information, please visit or email one of the Auctus Creative Works co-editors, Sterling Toppings at or Hannah Rumsey at


Same great classes, all new names

Beginning in the academic year 2013-2014, all non-discipline elective courses in the VCU da Vinci Center Undergraduate Certificate in Product Innovation program will change to the INNO rubric.

What does this mean for you? Not a whole lot.

If you are an Undergraduate Certificate student who has already taken ARTS 121, MGMT 121 or ENGR 121—those credits will still count towards the completion of your certificate. If you have not taken one/any of the required non-discipline electives, you will—they’ll just be called something different now.

  • ARTS 121 is now INNO 221: Introduction to Arts & Design Principles
  • MGMT 121 is now INNO 223: Introduction to Business Principles
  • ENGR 121 is now INNO 225: Introduction to Engineering & Technology Principles

ARTS 121 is now INNO 221



MGMT 121 is now INNO 223ENGR 121 is now INN) 225











Scheduling made simple

In an effort to provide an outstanding experience to all Certificate students, the VCU da Vinci Center will also begin offering its courses on predetermined days and times. This will allow for better course planning and open the door for many more students across VCU to participate in this truly unique program.

  • INNO 200 will be offered every semester  on Monday evenings from 5:00-6:00pm 
  • INNO 221 will be offered in the fall semester only on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:00-10:20am
  • INNO 223 will be offered in the spring semester only on Wednesdays from 6:00-8:40pm
  • INNO 225 will be offered in the spring semester only on Thursdays from 6:00-8:40pm
  • INNO 460 will be offered every semester on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30-5:00pm

INNO class times for fall and spring semesters


Altria boosts VCU’s da Vinci Center

From left, Georges Aguehounde, Luca Terziotti, Becky Moran, Christina Walinski, 
Samantha Testa and Ilijana Soldan work on a project at VCU’s da Vinci Center.By: JOHN REID BLACKWELL | Richmond Times-Dispatch
Published: September 17, 2012
Updated: September 17, 2012 – 9:02 PM

Virginia Commonwealth University engineering student Luca Terziotti is hoping to put his education to use designing innovative products for mountaineering and rock climbing, a passion of his.

Catherine Gellatly, a craft and material studies student and a VCU crew team member, wants to design better boating products. Samantha Testa, a business administration major, thinks she can bring innovative ideas to the hospitality industry.

All three are honing their skills at VCU’s da Vinci Center for Innovation, an interdisciplinary program that brings art, business and engineering students together to collaborate on projects, including solving problems for real-world businesses.

Now the da Vinci Center, established in 2007, has received a financial boost from corporate giant Altria Group Inc.

Henrico County-based Altria will donate $1.5 million to the center to help support and expand its mission of producing students who can think across disciplines and bring creative ideas and products to market.

The center “really develops students in a way that makes them attractive to any business — not just ours — because it makes them more well-rounded,” Jack Nelson, Altria’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, said at an event at VCU to announce the donation Monday.

Altria is the parent company of Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest cigarette maker.

The da Vinci Center has 51 students enrolled in an undergraduate product design and innovation certificate program. Ten graduate students are enrolled in a master’s of product innovation program, the first such graduate program in the United States.

“Our intent is to continue to grow the program,” said Kenneth Kahn, a professor of marketing and director of the da Vinci Center. The donation “helps us to go from good, to great, to remarkable,” he said.

Kahn said the goal of the program is to create “T-shaped individuals,” or graduates who are well-anchored in their core subjects of business, arts or engineering, but who are also able to bridge the gap and communicate effectively in other disciplines.

The donation of $300,000 a year for five years will support plans to enroll more students and buy equipment, such as a 3-D printer for the center’s product design lab.

The donation also will support a program in which VCU students help to teach local middle schoolers about science, technology, engineering and math at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Nelson said Altria made the donation because it sees the da Vinci Center as a resource. The company recruits employees heavily from VCU, but it also sees the graduate program in product innovation as an opportunity for current employees, he said.

“It is a resource for our current employees who want to enhance their skills and capability, and it is also a resource for us to recruit employees,” he said.

Testa, the business student, said the da Vinci Center program is a “vacation away from my everyday grind,” studying administration and management.

“It is where I use my brain in completely different ways, working with engineers and artists,” she said. “I am getting a chance to not only work with other people, but to think like other people.” (804) 775-8123

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