What is Vertically Integrated Projects?

Haiti shelters

What is Vertically Integrated Projects?

Vertically Integrated Projects, or VIP, is a program at College of Innovation and Design that takes learning experience to a whole new level. Instead of classroom lectures and jargon-intensive material, it is a project-oriented course. The goal is to design a research based model to solve a particular problem.

VIP has various topics to explore: Science of Art, Plasma Medicine, Immersive Virtual Reality, Automatic Music Transcription and Shelter Lab. One of this year’s newly added topics was Shelter Lab, inspired by Senior Capstone project in 2014-2015 academic year.

What’s unique about the VIP program is that it is a collaboration among undergraduate and graduate students and faculty. “It can be thought more as a workshop and it’s a very free form of educational experience.” said Lynn Catlin, the lead faculty for Shelter Lab.

Lynn Catlin isn’t the only person teaching the course. Other faculty members also participate to contribute to different aspects of a project. “Rather than just a professor with an answer key, I get to be a faculty member working side by side with students to solve problems.” added Lynn.

Shelter Lab: Course Goals

Shelter Lab is a practical course that focuses on developing and sustaining an efficient shelter design that would be able to accommodate disaster victims in any environment. “Why the world doesn’t have shelters to drop wherever and whenever needed?” asked Lynn. “We have a range for ready solutions that solve some of the problems, but nothing exists as a whole solution.”

According to Lynn Catlin, one of the problems with the way Western nations approach disasters in Third World countries is they simply come in, give people the help and then just leave, even though there is no infrastructure to sustain the assistance. “We are striving to make it simple, so people can put it together, or if it’s difficult, then we can teach them how to put it together.”

On top of that, the economic state of the certain location must be taken to account, since new technology can create an imbalance of the economy. “If we develop a shelter and drop it in, say, Sub Saharan Africa, we may upset the balance of the market over there”, said Catlin. “If they use a particular technology to filter water, and we bring something else in, people that sell that technology are now out of work.“

Students, enrolled in the class, claim that the class is nothing they have experienced before. “I found out about the class through the original senior design team; they talked about it in our class, and at the showcase, I talked to them more. The project seemed a lot different than projects we’ve seen, this one had an emotional tide to it.” said Amber Salcedo, a mechanical engineering senior. “So that’s what drew me to it, that’s what made me join. It’s not necessarily about the designing and calculating, there is a reason behind it, so it makes you more passionate and driven.”

Shelter Lab focuses a lot on human needs when in process of developing a shelter model. It is not just about the design and technical aspects, but humanitarian, too. “A lot of discussions revolve around what people need. Imagine a disaster scenario and then fill in how each member of the family will be affected after the disaster strikes.” explained Catlin. “We think what users could be experiencing, based on who the user is, period of time and the environment.”

Shelter Lab hopes to attract non-engineer majors

Although VIP seems like an engineering intensive course, it is not technical at all. “Most of our work has been trying to understand what the issues are, and we’re just trying to be innovative.” said Salcedo. “In the beginning, we research sociological aspects of an issue, and, as we continue through, we go into concepts and then break up different parts that need to be designed.”

According to Amber Salcedo, Shelter Lab is different in a way that it is open ended and isn’t necessarily just one formula to the problem. “It’s being a team, working together for a common goal.” said Salcedo. “On top of that, it’s a lot of sociology, economics, and engineering to put together a puzzle piece to start develop a plan to create this.”

Other majors can certainly bring a lot to the table. Shelter Lab is looking for people with other skills, such as marketing, sociology and more. “A lot of research is towards how people would use the space? What is important and not?” stated Lynn Catlin. “It’s a market research. What are the holes? Are we going to design something to be put into a specific culture?”

Professor Catlin adds that it is crucial to have people who are familiar with culture studies and sociology. Since some nations have specific religious practices and beliefs, certain products may be inapt or even offensive. “It’s easy for us to pick one target, let’s say, a 1st world country. We can easily design a product to fit that. But would it also work in Philippines or some African culture, where it’s a completely different environment?”

Currently, Shelter Lab’s developed shelter model is a basic prototype that will be completed May 2017. Shelter Lab hopes to then perform initial structural and climate testing to then refine various aspects. “Realistically, the university’s goal is to develop the technology, make it our intellectual property and license that to private corporation for development, but currently, it’s not a direct goal to develop a single overall product for release.” said Catlin.

More information about the projects and the program is available at https://cid.boisestate.edu/vip/. To find out about instructors, schedules and enrollment, students can go on Student Center and search for Vertically Integrated Projects for Fall 2016. Apply for the VIP here. Make a change you want to see in this world!