WSU’s Frank Innovation Zone (FIZ) is a student-friendly environment that gives engineers the resources to work on their projects independently and collaboratively.

Located on the ground floor of Dana Hall on the WSU Pullman campus, the FIZ aims to foster the development of entrepreneurial skills in more students and provide them with access to a wide range of hands-on learning experiences. The FIZ was established with support from the Raintree Foundation, established by the late Harold R. Frank.

“FIZ gives our students the resources they need to pursue their creativity,” said John Schneider, Voiland’s associate dean of undergraduate programs.

Totaling more than 3000 square feet, the FIZ is made up of a wood fabrication studio, a metal fabrication studio, a desktop fabrication studio, an electric testing and fabrication studio, a community studio and a service center.

Three students working together to build a large wood frame.
Voiland College students at work in the Frank Innovation Zone (FIZ).

FIZ’s wood fabrication studio gives students the freedom to perform all the basic wood working operations. It is equipped with the tools that are available in a standard wood shop. Cutting, drilling, and sanding can be done to realize an endless range of wood-based projects.

The metal fabrication studio is similarly equipped to allow students to work with metal. The equipment is suited for sheet metal work, cutting, drilling and general fabrication. More advance metal machining needs are met through the use of partner studios across the college.

There is a lot of interest in the continued development of our electrical test and fabrication studio. Students will be able to design and make their own circuit boards. “We’re looking forward to making, testing and repairing the circuit boards we design.” said mechanical engineering student Jason Murphy.

FIZ’s desktop fabrication lab consists mainly of 3-D printers and a laser engraver and cutter, giving students the ability to develop parts for their projects quickly, accurately, and precisely.

The community studio provides students with access to computers and design software. They can practice presentations and test the large screen display of their posters by using the overhead projector or the TV screens. Clubs and student organizations frequently use the community studio to run their meetings and host their events.

If students need to work on a project at a different location, students can check out tools from the FIZ’s service center, which also sells equipment and materials for academic or personal use at competitive prices.

As FIZ director, Kirk Reinkens often advises students and clubs on ways to accomplish their projects.

“My favorite part of the day is when a student has an idea and he or she comes in here. FIZ staff and students talk with them to figure out the best way to accomplish that idea,” Reinkens said.

Sometimes students will come to him with a direct, straightforward question. Sometimes, there is much more brainstorming involved. As a former research and development professional, Reinkens appreciates the importance of letting students learn for themselves what the best way to accomplish a project is rather than always telling them the right way to do it.

“The goal of the FIZ is to have students transform their ideas into things by providing the students with a ‘maker space’ housing all the resources needed to realize these transformations,” added Schneider.

By giving students the resources to practice and grow their interest in engineering, the FIZ encourages students to use the space and the tools to work on outside projects. During summer break, Steven Peyron, a mechanical engineering student, was building and testing a self-watering planter.

“I once saw a student make an electric guitar. He cut out the piece of wood, sanded it down, routed out the spaces for the neck to fit into the body, and drilled the holes for the threads. He got all the parts together and started making it,” said Peyron.

What makes FIZ very different from other labs and studios is the unrestricted public access. All WSU students can use the space and its equipment without restrictions, as long as they adhere to the strict safety conditions. Student leaders train their peers on how to safely use the equipment, who then have the ability to work with the tools whenever they want.

“We’re trying to leverage the abilities of students who come in with previous workshop experience to help students who’ve never had access to a space like this,” Reinkens explained.

After so much practical learning in his own life, Reinkens understands the value of the FIZ and hands-on learning as a supplement to a classroom education. He hopes to continue to expand the FIZ as student interest and use grows.

“The eagerness for students to get involved is really high,” Reinkens said. “Freshman engagement is through the roof.”