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Combining arts with engineering career skills | Virginia Tech News

Combining arts with engineering career skills | Virginia Tech News


Ben Knapp has told this story before, but he always repeats it.

He explains that art and engineering have always driven each other, from cave paintings to Walt Disney drawing cells on film to the digital algorithms that allow us to draw and even light objects on digital frames today. Knapps' current project is about extending old methods with new twists and applying that intersection to the modern business world. He calls it the “Da Vinci Cube.”

Knapp, executive director of Virginia Tech's Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, and his team have been reaching out to their own networks and interviewing executives from different companies every week for the past six months. The companies interviewed range in size and sector, from privately owned businesses and consulting firms to school systems and large for-profit companies, to technology, environmental issues, and even wine companies. Knapp says that while each company is unique, they can all gain something from applying the same lens to their recruiting efforts.

Before explaining the three-dimensional visualization of the Da Vinci Cube, it's helpful to start with the two-dimensional blueprint on which Knapp and engineering professor Tom Martin built their vision.

Pasteur's quadrant is a model created by Donald E. Stokes, author of the book of the same name, who aims to classify scientific research along two axes. The first is the motivation for knowledge and understanding, which he links to the work of atomic physicist Niels Bohr. The second is considerations of use, for which he cites Thomas Edison as an example. Louis Pasteur, whose use-inspired research met both criteria, is the man behind the model's name.

But Knapp and Martin felt that this template needed to be updated to model innovation in the modern world. How could we develop a new framework for assessing the skills needed for these positions, taking into account the emotional intelligence required for innovation?

Tom and I, around the same time, were watching a presentation by a business leader on Pasteur's Quadrant and simultaneously had the idea that there was more to things than use and knowledge, Knapp said.

The emergence of emotions, the third dimension.

Being a National Endowment for the Arts lab, he said, is about bringing art and social science together: “We look at art and innovation through these ethnographic interviews.”

The initial phase of the project will finish in February 2025, with the hopes of completing 100 interviews by then, but the goal is to continue building the breadth and depth of the interview pool over the coming years, expanding the database to provide better and more extensive insights into the process.

While some companies will wait for more comprehensive results from the project before taking action, others will see immediate benefits from participating.

“We had someone in one interview who wanted to use this as part of the interview process,” Knapp said.

As the results come in, Knapp hopes they will serve as a blueprint not just for the companies that participated in the project, but for any company looking to hire better.

Ben Knapp will be the keynote speaker at Tech on Tap at Port City Brewing Company in Alexandria on Wednesday, June 26th at 6pm. Reserve your tickets now.




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