CDI Receives Digital Innovation Leadership Grant

15225873001_d7f5159e08_zCHAMPAIGN, September 26, 2014—Illinois citizens will soon have increased access to the latest digital tools and economic development opportunities. University of Illinois Extension has awarded $300,000 to the Center for Digital Inclusion at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science as part of a new campus extension and outreach initiative. The project was one of six collaborative projects led by interdisciplinary faculty and staff from across the Urbana campus to further Extension’s education and outreach mission.

The Illinois Digital Innovation Leadership Program will increase opportunities for entrepreneurship, economic development, and innovation through the expansion of digital manufacturing, digital media production, and data analytics. Additionally, the project will engage Illinoisans with mobile digital design and innovation labs, or “DigiTech Hubs,” which will serve as high-tech inventor workshops equipped with tools for everything from audio production to 3D printing.

15042276740_6cdd812003_zThe DigiTech Hubs, sometimes known as “Makerspaces,” will provide an exploratory community design space for advanced digital design and innovation. For example, community members could learn to make podcasts, experiment with soldering, create small robots, learn how to 3D design and print, or work with advanced microcomputers. The expansion of DigiTech hubs is a new way for Extension to engage with the public and to expand the reach of world-class research at the University of Illinois.

Dr. Jon Gant, director of the Center for Digital Inclusion and research professor at GSLIS, is the principal investigator of the grant. An interdisciplinary team of accomplished University researchers will serve as grant partners.

“Enabling this kind of innovation and creativity is key to twenty-first century technological and economic development,” said Gant. “We’re committed to expanding economic development and digital inclusion opportunities across Illinois by helping to build institutional capacity with Extension and communities across the state.”

The Illinois Digital Innovation Leadership program brings together faculty from engineering, fine and applied arts, business, labor and employment relations, media, and library and information science to collaborate with UI Extension educators. A full list of grant partners is below.

UofIExtensionWhile the mobile labs rotate among UI Extension sites, Digital Innovation Leadership staff will also work with 4-H clubs, public libraries, and public schools to develop permanent community-based and -supported studios, creating a network that will build statewide capacity in digital design, manufacturing, and entrepreneurship.

The awards are part of the University of Illinois Extension and Outreach Initiative, a special partnership between Extension, the dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES), and the Office of the Provost. Six awards were selected from a pool of 71 pre-proposals from 16 different campus units. The Extension and Outreach Initiative is aimed at establishing new collaborations between Extension and departments and units across campus.

Illinois Digital Innovation Leadership Program Research Partners:

  • Lisa Bievenue, Illinois Informatics Institute
  • Bruce Elliott-Litchfield, College of Engineering
  • Deana McDonagh, College of Fine and Applied Arts and Beckman Institute of Advanced Science and Technolgy
  • Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, College of Labor and Employment Relations
  • Michael Haberman, National Science Foundation and National Center for Supercomputing Applications
  • Madhu Viswanathan, College of Business
  • Brant Houston, College of Media
  • Martin Wolske, Graduate School of Library and Information Science
  • Michael Twidale, Graduate School of Library and Information Science
  • Catherine Blake, Center for Informatics Research in Science and Scholarship (CIRSS)
  • Jeff Ginger, C-U Community Fab Lab and Illinois Informatics Institute
  • Pam Dempsey, Investigative Journalism Education Consortium
  • Kirstin Phelps, doctoral student at Graduate School of Library and Information Science
  • Jarai Carter, doctoral student at Graduate School of Library and Information Science

University of Illinois Extension Partners:

  • Lisa Bouillion Diaz, Extension Specialist at the UI Campus and State 4-H Office
  • Kathie Brown, Community and Economic Development Educator in Unit 11 Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties
  • Alvarez Dixon, 4-H Youth Development Educator in Unit 13 Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, and Vermilion counties
  • Jody Johnson, County Director in Unit 27 Alexander, Johnson, Massac, Pulaski, and Union counties


About Extension: 

University of Illinois Extension is the flagship outreach arm of the University. Extension’s statewide network of educators and county-based offices provide programming in economic development, health and nutrition, agriculture and natural resources, and youth development. Visit to learn more.

About the Center for Digital Inclusion:

The Center for Digital Inclusion aims to foster inclusive and sustainable societies through research, teaching and public engagement about information and communication technologies. Our team works with a broad cross section of communities, organizations and governments to ensure they have the tools needed to succeed in a digital world. To learn more about the Center for Digital Inclusion, visit


Photos courtesy of C-U Community Fab Lab Flickr. See more photos at

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