Wond’ry receives $500k innovation grant, design award

The grant establishes the Wond'ry as an I-Corps site, giving students and faculty access to funding opportunities and research networks

The Wond’ry, located inside the Engineering and Science Building’s Innovation Pavilion, is one of the newest additions to Vanderbilt’s campus. This semester, after nearly a year in operation, the Wond’ry and the Innovation Pavilion were the recipients of two awards: an I-Corps site grant and an Award of Merit from Engineering News-Record Southeast for the building’s design and functionality. According to Wond’ry Executive Director Robert Grajewski, both awards recognized the innovative features of the spaces that contribute to the overall experience students and faculty can have through the Wond’ry and Innovation Pavilion.

“It’s satisfying to receive that recognition,” Grajewski said. “It really allows us some confidence or a pat on the back that we’re doing something right and that we’re very quickly becoming this innovation thought leader in this space and in this industry.”

[The award] will really catalyze a lot of STEM startup opportunities for students, faculty and staff

The I-Corps grant gives the Wond’ry $500,000 to fund research and start-ups in STEM fields. It also establishes the Wond’ry as an I-Corps site, making Vanderbilt one of seventy universities in the nation with an I-Corps site. This means that students, faculty and staff who do work through the Wond’ry can access the Node, the regional I-Corps site, as well as the national I-Corps site in Washington, D.C. Additionally, the site is now part of the National Science Foundation lineage, meaning that startups that begin through the I-Corps program can apply for specific federal grants ranging anywhere from a quarter million to half a million dollars without giving up ownership of their company.

“It’s a great way to kind of quickly speed up the innovation, entrepreneurship and business startup creation process,” Wond’ry said. “It’s the first time in Vanderbilt history that we received this award and it will really catalyze a lot of STEM startup opportunities for students, faculty and staff across the board.”

The Engineering News-Record Southeast design award was given to the Innovation Pavilion for the architectural design and functionality of the building. The Innovation Pavilion, which is part of the Engineering and Science Building and home to the Wond’ry, is a 230,000 square foot space dedicated to innovation in STEM. Grajewski said the award was earned in part due to the unique features of the Innovation Pavilion, including the 10,000 square foot clean room and the three makerspaces housed in the Wond’ry. One of the main architectural components of the Innovation Pavilion is the consistent use of glass and natural light throughout the structure which, according to Grajewski, gives the building a very open feeling.

Inside the Wond’ry. photo by Maria Sellers

“I think that’s an overarching unique quality of this building; we use a lot of natural light, glass, et cetera, to really bring innovation to the forefront, to promote collaboration and trans-institutional collaboration and work, so that there is ultimately a space where everyone can kind of come together and share and have this merger of not only intellectual capital but creative collisions,” Grajewski said.

Beyond the structural features, Grajewski said what makes the Wond’ry great is the team of staff and the students who serve as mentors and ambassadors. Accolades like these, he said, prove that the programming and spaces at the Wond’ry and the Innovation Pavilion are serving their purpose to the Vanderbilt community.

“[The awards] are a testament to the team that’s been created here,” Grajewski said. “Our staff here at the Wond’ry work tirelessly to be leaders to the Vanderbilt community, to provide and create the best experience, the best programs, the best opportunities for our faculty, students and staff to pursue their innovative and entrepreneurial passions and dreams… Most importantly, what awards and this additional funding and additional accolades really provide is just even more opportunity to continue the good work that our team has been really able to start crafting and building here at the Wond’ry.”

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Maria Sellers (2021) is a writer for the Campus section of the Vanderbilt Hustler. She loves her hometown of Greenville, SC but Nashville is quickly becoming one of her favorite cities. Maria is majoring in Biology and wants to go into scientific research.

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