Bringing It

Bringing It #92: James Madison University’s X-Labs, Every Campus a Refuge, And Job Opportunities

October 07, 2022

Dear friends,

As we noted in the last Bringing It, we are going to feature important news about the Paradigm Project in these letters—including posts about innovative institutions and experiments that point the way forward for positive change. In coming issues, we will showcase exemplars working on themes like educational equity, democratic engagement, student support, pedagogical innovations, and other areas. Our hope is that Bringing It can serve as a kind of Lonely Planet guide for creative change emerging or happening across higher ed.

Today we bring you X-Labs at James Madison University, an experimental space that embodies new models of transdisciplinary learning and “wicked” problem-solving. X-Labs brings together faculty and students from a wide array of JMU schools and disciplines, along with community partners and industry clients, to develop problem-based classes, launch community partnerships, catalyze creative projects, and support cutting-edge research.

David came away jazzed by a recent visit. He was excited to watch students, staff, and faculty at work on X-Labs’ 3-D printers, smart tables, and digital walls. He was excited by the ethos of collaboration, design thinking, and community engagement that underlie this next-gen activity. And he was excited to hear about the efforts of JMU faculty and administrators to extend the lessons of this beachhead of innovation across the university and the curriculum.

Perhaps most exciting is the fact that JMU X-Labs is not some “unicorn” outlier. Other institutions are also working at the nexus of transdisciplinary learning, problem-based curricula, design thinking, community engagement, and social impact. Lehigh University’s Mountaintop Initiative is one. So is Plymouth State University, whose “Integrated Clusters” curriculum is organized around wicked problems and “open labs.”

X-Labs, in short, may be part of an emerging community of practice that places problem-solving, collaboration, and student creativity at the heart of the undergraduate experience. We asked X-Labs partners from JMU’s Office of Research and Scholarship, the College of Integrated Science and Engineering, University Libraries, and the Center for Assessment Research Studies to tell us more about it:

JMU X-Labs: Actualizing Engagement

JMU X-Labs at James Madison University is both a physical place and an educational idea. It cultivates high-impact, engaged learning and research through creative and inventive collaborations. X-Labs brings together transdisciplinary teams who—in courses, projects, and cocurricular experiences—take on complex questions and “wicked problems,” and in the process reimagine innovation and impact. This transdisciplinary problem-solving runs the gamut from a class like “Hacking for the Environment,” to partnerships with the local United Way to an Esports gaming arena. The “X” in X-Labs represents an intersection of expertise, lived experience, disciplines, and a commitment to inclusive excellence. It creates a space for learning and innovating communities of students, faculty, and staff, as well as community, industry, and philanthropic partners, to study, build, and solve significant problems.

X-Labs grounds its work in the values of inclusive excellence, collaborative innovation, community​ engagement, engaged learning​, creative inquiry, and social impact.
These values underlie all of X-Labs’ enterprises: projects in critical and engaged research, classes and other learning experiences, incubator labs, and our Innovation Summit, among others. We seek to generate new pedagogies and curricula, new inventive research, industry partnerships and internships, start-up ideas, and entrepreneurial projects—experiences where students, faculty, clients, and industry participants bring to the table their own knowledge, expertise, and lived experiences. In the process, students are grounded in the practices of design thinking, participatory design, and design justice. Whether in classes, in student-led creative projects, or in gaming and maker spaces like the Esports Arena and The Tank, they learn to ideate, investigate, iterate, and advance projects that respond to real problems and needs.

JMU X-Labs was born from a critical creative collision between the learning and research agenda of the university and new practices and tools of collaborative innovation. The result is a model where people can explore emerging ideas, technologies, and sectors while directly supporting the educational, research, and entrepreneurial mission of James Madison University and the needs of the larger world.  To learn more, visit

JMU X-Labs was initially established and continues to be supported with funds from a Virginia initiative called 4-VA.

Every Campus A Refuge

Two weeks ago, Todd was thrilled to join nearly 200 students, faculty, staff, and community organizers from across the country at the Every Campus a Refuge (ECAR) gathering at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. ECAR founder and director, Diya Abdo, is also a project leader and grant recipient of BT2P’s The Way Forward initiative. ECAR’s mission is to mobilize colleges and universities to host refugees on campus grounds and support them in their resettlement. Check out ECAR’s website and Diya’s TED Talk to learn how your campus can join this growing list of ECAR chapters!

Job Opportunities

Project Pericles: Deputy Director

Our friends at Project Pericles are seeking a Deputy Director to initiate, design, and implement new directions for the organization. The Deputy Director will work to expand Project Pericles’ capacity to address issues including civic engagement, social justice/responsibility, and higher education’s mission to serve the public good. The position is located in their New York office. To learn more see here.

California State University Monterey Bay: Director of the Service Learning Institute & Associate or Full Professor of Service Learning

BT2P’s friends at California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) are seeking a Director of the Service Learning Institute at the rank of Associate or Full Professor. The Director will support the development of new courses and curricula and provide leadership for campus-wide service learning development. At CSUMB, service learning is an integral part of a well rounded education, as it is embedded in required academic courses. To learn more see here.

Thanks for staying in touch, contributing to our work, and for all that you do,

David, Paul, Todd, and Gianna