Faculty and students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are celebrating a new laboratory space.

“We are extremely excited to house innovation and exploration in one place,” said Shayla Sawyer, a professor of electrical, computer and systems engineering.

Thanks to a $2 million contribution from an alum, RPI is creating the Douglas Mercer Innovation and Exploration Laboratory.

“Students weren’t retaining what they were exposed to,” said Mercer, a 1977 RPI grad. “They weren’t actually learning it.”

Mercer noticed this many years ago and helped the university transform it’s teaching style. Now, he’s helping build on that with the Mercer XLab.

“The world needs more engineers, and they need to be well trained,” Mercer said.

The facility will be a space for hands-on learning and will promote collaboration among students, faculty and staff.

“At least for me, hands-on learning gives me the time to do what they’re saying, so it’s not all theoretical in my head,” said Danielle Nnoram, an electrical, computer and systems engineering student at RPI.

Having a dedicated space to tinker will allow Nnoram to build on an interest in the field that was sparked by a high school robotics class.

“I figured with electrical, computer and systems engineering, I can make stuff that helps people,” Nnoram said.

And having just come out of a period of remote learning, faculty and staff said the Mercer XLab is coming just in time.

“It really helped me figure out, why do students come to class,” Sawyer said. “They come to collaborate. They come to talk with each other.”