Michael Bailey-Van Kuren received a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University, his MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and a PhD. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. He is currently an Associate Professor of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Miami University where he is also an affiliate faculty member of Miami’s Interactive Media Studies Program and directs the Rapid Prototyping and Fabrication Lab. Michael utilizes his background in robotics and controls to design new mechatronic interfaces and devices for pediatric assistive technology. Current projects seek to design an immersive environment that will engage and motivate developmentally delayed children to perform routine therapy.
C. Michael Armstrong Professor of Engineering and Interactive Media
Intro: Welcome to Listen For Insight. I’m your host Logan Raukar. We have for you Michael Bailey Van Kuren, a professor of engineering and interactive media at Miami University, and his insights on the importance diversity has on creativity and innovation. I send you now to our interviewer Loy McGuire.
Loy: So how do you adapt creativity and innovation from industry and past experience into your designs or research?
Dr. BVK: Well I think that as a designer it’s important to always take your experience and use it as you go to new projects and a lot of your creativity can come from linking different events from seemingly unrelated fields to come up with new ideas. And so throughout my history I’ve taken things from when I worked or was in school and brought them into new projects and um into the classroom when teaching creativity and teaching design
Loy: Do you have any ahh specific examples or stories that you can think of umm where you’ve kind of taken something like unrelated and applied it umm into something later on?
Dr. BVK: You know, throughout my early career I was working in robotics but was mostly in manufacturing and robotics automation as was applied in the factory. As I have gone on, I’m taking my knowledge that I have learned from actuators and sensors and applying it in pediatric therapy in coming up with new devices that allow therapists to learn information while the children are doing various exercises. So, you know that’s one way of taking information from an unrelated field and bringing it into a completely new field of application
Loy: Huh, that’s really interesting. How did you uh, how did you get into umm going from manufacturing and robotics and thinking to apply that. Uh was there like a specific uh event that led to that uh or was there always an interest?
Dr. BVK: There was an event that got me into… I was in a childrens’ hospital and the first problem I came across was related to the neonatal carts that they use for moving newborns with medical problems around and they’re strapped onto a regular gurney and every time it hit a bump you would see a change in the vitals for the patient that was in it. And looking at the system I noticed there wasn’t any kind of shock absorption and so after that when I was outside of that environment I started to look into it and I started to realize that what I had seen was true, that there was no way of absorbing the shock to help protect the newly born infant and that was - led to one project with childrens hospital here in Cincinnati and then from there the contacts that I made throughout the childrens network I kept finding new possible applications from people who had medical needs but didn’t know technology, and so by linking my knowledge of technology and sensing and actuating to um practical needs within the pediatric community I was able to find new problems to try to solve.
Loy: Do you know uhh what your next big direction might be--
Dr. BVK: Yeah!
Loy: --or are you working on something.
Dr. BVK: The innovative next step for the pediatric projects that we’ve done, so we have a lot of student projects where they’ve developed different types of pediatric uh devices, mostly to be incorporated in play when a therapist and child are working together in therapy. Um starting last summer I had some students draft a version of a website that will use the community crowd based uhh crowdsourcing to link therapists and makers across the globe hopefully and the idea is we will put up designs from students in an open source format so that people from around the world can download them and build them if they have the maker ability and maker equipment to, ya know, create the device at no cost. And also we have part of the web portal for therapists to propose new problems for engineers or other makers, designers to tackle. And so creating this online community where therapists propose problems, engineers, makers, designers solve them, post their solutions so that they can be disseminated to different clinics around the world.
Loy: Wow, that's incredible. That would be really big! So what would you say is the hardest part of teaching creativity to students?
Dr. BVK: I think teaching creativity at the college level one of the barriers we run into is the accumulated time and education where they are taught there’s one right solution and they’re working towards one solution in a very linear fashion. Creativity requires you to diverge and look at a lot of possible solutions before you analytically bring that back down and converge at each step of the process. I think that the other part of that that is hard is so often in education students are just given the problem. And to really approach problems that they are gonna see you know, throughout their lives, they need to be able to identify problems, and teaching that- those skills to identify is one part of the creative process and one that they do not have a lot of experience with.
Loy: Would you say that there’s certain qualities that would be signs of success, uh, that would indicate uh which students would be more or less creative between their classes?
Dr. BVK: I think students that are open minded, that can handle ambiguity, not having a well defined problem. Um, students who can, um, do those things uh have a step up, you know, as they approach creativity and approach creative processes.
Loy: Have you seen or thought of any difference between um the creativity of students today versus people in older generations?
Dr. BVK: I think that students today are getting exposed more to creativity and creative tools and it has been a much more recent topic. Especially within the education setting I think you’ve had creative people obviously throughout history and every age group and generation and I think the difference is we’re providing the tools to the most recent college generation to maybe see creativity where people may not have seen it in the past. As you meet people from different stages, like alumni, I think you have incredibly creative people in every age group and I think that’s true that in young adult groups coming up today. The big difference is that many college students now know that there is an opportunity that they can be creative no matter what their chosen major or what their chosen career path. And that message was not presented to us when I went to school or as others passed through the education system. You have some people that are being creative in spite of the system they came up in.
Loy: Thinking of the people that were creative in the old generation versus new students, do you have any students or people from the old generation that you’ve found to be incredibly creative in different ways that you’ve taken something from? That you’ve learned or based some part of your creativity from them?
Dr. BVK: I can’t think of a particular person that I would think of as a mentor in terms of creativity, however, I try to come away with something new every time I see someone designing something in a new way, coming up with ideas. I always try to have a take away no matter who the person is even with students and seeing the way they approach things and might learn something new and different. I was just at an event over the weekend where various faculty were presenting to alumni and I sat in on one of the other faculty sessions and this faculty had a new way of approaching reasoning by using standard puzzles, and with that I was able to see how I could apply that within creativity and innovation classes that we do. So I think you can always come away with lessons learned from a variety of sources that continue to form your own identity as a designer and a creative
Loy: How big of a factor do you think it is in incorporating multidisciplinary ideas into the design process?
Dr. BVK: I think having an interdisciplinary perspective or a multidisciplinary team is integral to having innovative designs come from your process. You know, it is having someone who is sometimes naive to a given field that can have the most vital insight into that problem because it is new to them and they are seeing it with fresh eyes. And therefore when you have a multidisciplinary team, you never know what you are going to run into and by having different people who can question each part of what you are doing, I think it leads to better solutions. So to answer the original question, I think it is an essential part, I mean you can always get innovative designs but you will end up with more innovative designs on average if you have an interdisciplinary team, rather than a single individual or a single disciplinary team.
Loy: I guess is there a story like behind why you specifically wanna tap and focus into creativity and innovation um.
Dr. BVK: I think coming up through my education and career in engineering, I’ve seen a lot of incredible talent and you have a lot of people who can solve very complex problems well. However, as you know as I’ve gotten more into the area of creativity or user-centered design, I’ve found that you can channel this talent to have more impact by using creativity and innovation-based curriculum or just training. You know, no matter what stage in your life that it’s an enhancement to your basic technical skill and not just a deviation from it and um and with the complexity of problems that are facing the world now, you need to be able to use, I think, you need to be able to use these approaches in order to solve those types of problems. If there was one way that I would want to inspire students, I would have them go and try to find impactful problems or problems that they’re passionate about, and you hear about following the passion, but at the same time, find where the problems around that is, and put in the work to solve it. And you know, that doesn’t sound like creativity and innovation off the top, but it’s that idea of use your ability to creatively solve problems on things that can really impact. So it’s not a trivial item or you know, an app that makes your life a little bit easier. Try to find the big things that you can really make a difference in the world. And sometimes those are the really hard things to tackle either socially, technically, you know where they’re you know there might be all types of political, legislative barriers, but push yourself to tackle the big problems and not just take on the trivial ones because they’re easy. I don’t know if that’s really creativity. My name is Michael Bailey Van Kuren, I’m the C. Michael Armstrong professor of engineering and interactive media, and I want to thank you for listening to insight.
Categories | Creativity and Innovation
Filetype: MP3 - Size: 14.25MB - Duration: 15:34 m (128 kbps 44100 Hz)