The Kitchen re-think


Attendees at the OEDK dedication on Sept. 5 proceed down the staircase to the new space, henceforth known as "The Kitchen Sink." Photo by An Le

Expanded Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen reopens

The best view at the expanded Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) at the Sept. 6 open house was from the bottom of the dramatic new staircase.

As students, faculty and alumni turned the corner onto the stairs, their eyes widened ever so slightly. Their looks said it all: “This is cool.”

Ribbon cutting

From left, Engineering Dean Ned Thomas, Rice President David Leebron and OEDK Director Maria Oden perform the ribbon cutting at the design kitchen's re-dedication after a dramatic expansion this summer. The OEDK nearly doubled the amount of space available for student projects by renovating the basement. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

The OEDK, the campus workshop where Rice students have all the tools they need to bring their design projects to life, got a much-needed expansion over the summer. The basement has been reconfigured into workspace, offices and other facilities to handle a load that has grown since the Kitchen first opened four years ago. The space was rededicated by Rice President David Leebron at a private reception for donors Sept. 5.

“We’re so thrilled to be able to offer this expanded, state-of-the-art facility to our students,” said Maria Oden, OEDK director and a professor in the practice of engineering. “Even more teams and students will be able to take advantage of these great resources.”

She anticipates the new space will take on its own identity fairly quickly. “We’d been struggling to find a good name for the expansion,” Oden said. “We finally decided there was only one possible name: The Kitchen Sink.”

“The Sink” rounds out a facility that has been a spectacular success not only for the George R. Brown School of Engineering but also for students across many disciplines on campus. It’s not unusual to encounter teams working there that include music, social science, architecture, humanities and natural science students, all of whom bring passion and unique perspectives to solve the knotty problems they take on.

“I’ve been telling people who have never been in the building to come over and look at it,” said Ned Thomas, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of the Brown School of Engineering. “They come in and say, ‘Wow, this is not a classroom. This is a sandbox, with tools.'”

Engineering Dean Ned Thomas (standing at right) holds court at a "Kitchen Sink" work table at the OEDK's Sept. 6 open house. Photo by Marilee Dizon

“At the OEDK, students work on real-world engineering challenges, problems brought to us by partners in the community, industry, the Texas Medical Center and doctors in low-resource settings,” Oden said. “These open-ended engineering problems are extremely challenging and often require solutions to cross disciplinary boundaries, much like the problems our students will face in industry.

“These are much more engaging for students than problems with one correct answer that can be found at the back of the book,” she said. “Students want to work on projects where they feel they can truly make a difference. This is what we try to provide.”

“We give students the resources and say, ‘Solve the challenge.’ Sometimes they don’t, but many times they do. That’s real engineering,” Thomas said.

He noted this year’s seniors have been able to work in the OEDK for their entire time at Rice. “Their design projects have jumped up in quality and complexity and deliverables compared with what they used to be, because they’re not coming in to design as seniors for the first time,” he said. “They were doing it as freshmen, and sometimes as sophomores and juniors.”

He recalled one freshman team’s pitch to Oden at the end of the year. “They asked if they could come back and work on their project as sophomores and she said, ‘You don’t understand. I can’t give you credit.’

“They said, ‘You don’t understand. We want access. We want to keep working on this.’

“There’s something in the water here that gets people excited,” Thomas said.






About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.