Turning Ideas Into Reality

The Sandbox lab. A group of students and a professor are gathered around a table while other students work in the background. It is a very large open floorspace with a high ceiling, large windows, shelves and equipment.
The Sandbox lab in the Brendan Iribe Center. Credit: John T. Consoli. Click image to download hi-res version.

Teaching entrepreneurship means giving students the skills they need to turn an idea into a reality, according to Bill Pugh, professor emeritus of computer science at the University of Maryland. "You have to figure out if building your idea is feasible and what technology you should use," Pugh said. "You bounce it off other people. Maybe you start implementing it and find it isn't going to work, or maybe the technology works but it just isn't compelling, so you pivot. And you keep pivoting until you eventually come up with something that is either useful to you or wows your friends and family. Those are the skills you need to become an entrepreneur."

An opportunity to foster that process inspired Pugh to lead the initiative for the new 5,300-square-foot Jagdeep Singh Family makerspace in the Brendan Iribe Center. Over the years, Pugh has been a strong supporter of innovation in computer science education at UMD, donating nearly $1.5 million along with his wife, Lisa Orange. The couple's most recent gift provided $500,000 to staff and operate the new makerspace and $250,000 to coordinate makerspaces across campus.

A $1 million gift from Jagdeep Singh (B.S. '86, computer science and economics) and his wife, Roshni, provided building funds to support the makerspace, which is affectionately called the Singh Sandbox. The name is a nod to the first Sandbox, a makerspace that opened in 2016 in the Computer Science Instructional Center.

"It's so important for students to gain experience beyond the traditional computer science curriculum that is often focused on software," Jagdeep Singh said. "Makerspaces are a wonderful way for students to work with tangible hardware and apply real-life problem-solving skills to create something in the real world."

The Singh Sandbox will be guided by the interests of students from any major who can make something, even if it's unrelated to research or a class. Consisting of six workshop spaces and a large communal work area on the first floor, Sandbox provides access to specialized equipment. The facilities include two laser cutters, a fully equipped wood shop, a large-format printer, a vinyl cutter, a metal milling machine, two types of 3D printers, an advanced electronics fabrication and analysis shop, sewing machines, hot glue guns, a button maker, and more.

"The Iribe Center was designed to encourage students to be inventive, to think about what they can do with technology and to partner with people outside their disciplines," Pugh said. "They'll come here, see research with drones and robots, as well as art projects infused with technology—all done by students—and they'll be excited to get involved."

Written by Kimbra Cutlip

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This article was published in the Spring 2019 issue of Odyssey magazine. To read other stories from that issue, please visit go.umd.edu/odyssey.

About the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences

The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 8,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college's 10 departments and six interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $250 million.