Polytechnic Summit highlights innovation, collaboration across disciplines, nations

UW-Stout leaders present on adapting education in post-pandemic world, sustainability methods in plastics
Abbey Goers | June 22, 2021

University of Wisconsin-Stout leaders presented at the 2021 Polytechnic Summit, raising questions, and starting conversations surrounding the future and relevancy of polytechnic universities across the globe.

Interim Provost Glendalí Rodríguez spoke on how polytechnics can adapt to changing educational environments, while industrial design Program Director Jennifer Astwood introduced attendees to one of UW-Stout’s student-centered initiatives and challenged international students to develop an alternative plastics product in a virtual summer school.

PS2021 was held from June 1 to 4, hosted virtually by Technological University Dublin, Ireland’s first technical school. The summit offered partners from the Global Polytechnic Educational Alliance opportunities to network, collaborate and explore topics that are at the core of polytechnic education.

'A challenge and an opportunity'

Glendali Rodriguez
Interim Provost Glendali Rodriguez / UW-Stout

During the opening evening on June 1, Rodríguez presented A Polytechnic in a Post-Pandemic World, in which she facilitated a panel discussion around three key questions posed to educators:

  • What aspects of higher education should not return to normal?
  • What accommodations made during the pandemic should become the new normal?
  • What reflections are there on the choice model for stakeholders: faculty, staff and students?

Rodríguez’s presentation was met with enthusiasm and sparked a daily activity for attendees to ask more questions or share answers and ideas.

“As polytechnics, COVID-19 proved both a challenge and opportunity to evolve and prioritize applied learning in new ways,” Rodríguez said. “The virtual summit highlighted our journeys and sparked renewed energy in a dynamic future ahead, with partnerships at the forefront.”

Maria Alm, interim dean of the College of Education, Hospitality, Health and Human Sciences, and Tiffani Taggart, outreach program manager for the Discovery Center, followed Rodríguez in a panel discussion with other attendees from partnering universities on the GPEA’s history and aims.


Jennifer Astwood and Alexandre Marble creating Made at Stout cups in 2019.
Jennifer Astwood and Alexandre Marble creating a form for the Made at Stout cups in 2019. / UW-Stout

On June 2, Astwood introduced attendees to the Made at UW-Stout initiative during her presentation Fully Emerged in the Process. Astwood and industrial design 2020 graduate Alexandre Marble described how they created 200 cups for the 2019 Polytechnic Summit and 250 cups for the WiSys symposium, both held at UW-Stout.

Astwood and five industrial design students, including Marble, created the cups using a slip cast process and used 15 forms to create different styles. The cups carried the Made at UW-Stout logo and were in a package created by the packaging department with designs by graphics students.

“For the Made at UW-Stout initiative, I wanted the audience to see what we created as a polytechnic university,” Astwood said.

Virtual Sustainability Summer School

TU Dublin also offered a two-week Virtual Sustainability Summer School from May 24 to June 4. Five sustainability courses were led by instructors from partnering GPEA institutions.


Jennifer Astwood leading an industrial design workshop. Photo taken pre-COVID.
Jennifer Astwood leading an industrial design workshop. Photo taken pre-COVID. / UW-Stout

Astwood led a collaborative course on Consumer Living on the Go. Six students from UW-Stout participated, as well as students from Purdue Polytechnic, TU Dublin, Coventry University and Bahrain Polytechnic. Students in different majors were placed in groups of five to seven for cross-disciplinary collaboration.

“Students researched, ideated and developed an alternative design for single use plastic take-out packaging utilizing the circular design principles,” Astwood explained. “This was supposed to take place in person in 2020, but the pandemic happened.”

The class met virtually every morning. Topics ranged from sustainable development goals to circular economic principles to research and the design process. Then, groups met with mentors, including Astwood, to discuss their sustainable packaging designs. They presented their projects at the summit.


Final product concept of student-designed sustainable plastic take-out box, ideated at Virtual Sustainability Summer School, June 2021.
Final product concept of student-designed sustainable plastic take-out box, ideated at Virtual Sustainability Summer School. / Jennifer Astwood

“I wanted the audience to understand the power of cross-disciplinary learning and collaboration across different majors and different universities. It is invaluable,” Astwood said. “Exposing students to working with others from different cultures and different work backgrounds will give them a huge leg up in their field and industry.”

Astwood has attended the summit since 2014, when it was held in Boston.

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