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RIT Ingenuity

January 20, 2014

"Good news, everybody" 

-- The professor from Futurama

Quirky and gifted. These words keep coming up in discussions we have with the Strategic Planning Steering committee to describe our students. Quirky, well, that's just the RIT way and who doesn't want to be a bit quirky anyway. But gifted isn't something you just say you are, nor is it a characteristic you learn—it is unsurprisingly a result of some gift you've been imbued with. 

We all know RIT students who fit these characteristics, but I bet if you sat any random RIT student down and probed what they are interested in, what they do, what experiences they've had, you find quirkiness and giftedness through and through. 

At the end of fall semester, I was fortunate to witness the work of our quirky and gifted students when I watched the final presentations for the MetaProject class, which is run by Josh Owen, associate professor and chair of the industrial design department. Josh brought the MetaProject initiative with him when RIT hired him in 2010 from Philadelphia University. The distinguishing feature of the MetaProject course is the industry-sponsored, project-based learning assignment that students do; each year a different industry partner agrees to sponsor a theme and each student then develops a product to match that theme, working closely with representatives from the partner. You can read more about the interesting approach at

At the end of each course, the students present their projects, usually in the form of a prototype of a product that the industry partner may produce. The projects are judged by the company and the winners will then have the opportunity to show their work in New York City in May. For more information, check out

For 2013, the industry sponsor was Herman Miller, a world renowned producer of furniture that has changed how we look at how we interact at the office. Their products have won numerous awards for their design and have essentially set the standard in the industry. So to impress Herman Miller, you'd better have a pretty ingenious idea.

So here's where the quirkiness and gifted comes full circle. This year's winner of the Metaproject competition was Alex Bennet who designed the very impressive "Invitation Chair" (see photo). His challenge was relatively simple to describe and a problem we have all faced. Say you are working at a computer workstation and you want to demonstrate your ideas to a colleague. Typically, your colleague would awkwardly stand behind you hunched over looking at the screen or equally awkwardly would pull up a spare chair (if one is available) and squeeze in next to you. In some cases, you might even scrunch over on your chair to create space for them to sit next to you. (Footnote: You need to be pretty darn comfortable with a colleague to do this.) What if, Alex reasoned, you had a chair that could split and pivot creating almost a separate chair right next to you?  Eureka! The birth of the Invitation Chair. 

Quirky, gifted, inspired, ingenious. Just like all of our RIT students. Here's to all of them and to the faculty and staff who bring out the best of them. 

Jeremy Haefner