By Stephen Silver
In January, Comcast opened its first-ever Collaboration Studio in the Oxford Mills building, a former textiles factory in South Kensington. The Studio is a physical space powered by Comcast. Along with a group of partners that includes Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia OIC the Food Trust and the University of Pennsylvania, the Studio has been hosting grade school students from the surrounding neighborhood for a series of workshops, where they work alongside graduate students from Jefferson to learn about healthy eating habits and how to access healthy food choices in their neighborhood using science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
On Wednesday, April 13, Comcast hosted a Neighborhood Party to formally introduce the Collaboration Studio to its neighbors in the building and surrounding areas. The event included a cocktail hour, a video and slideshow presentation, a tour of the Studio itself and finally some treats from local food trucks including Jerry’s Kitchen, Chez Yasmine and Surf and Turf.
Comcast describes the Studio as “a platform to bring Philly thought leaders and problem solvers together to solve community social issues,” by using Comcast’s technology and assets to connect these partners.
Goals include bringing together community partners who don’t normally work together.
“Our goal is to enable community partners to collaborate, and together, achieve meaningful solutions ,”says Michael Soileau, Comcast’s Vice President of Planning and Strategy, who spearheaded the pilot project as an overall benefit to the community.
Building the Community in Kensington
Since January, a group of sixth through eighth-grade students from the surrounding Kensington neighborhood have visited the Studio over the course of eight workshops for a project that helps map routes to find healthy food options in the area. The project involves the design of GPS devices to track them.
Not only have the students learned this complex task, but they’ve also mastered how it works and even how it doesn’t work.
The project includes everything from the development and design of the GPS trackers, to coding, to use of cutting-edge 3D printers, and a whole lot more.
“At the Collaboration Studio, Comcast has created an environment that is flexible and adaptable to the unique needs of the collaborations occurring there,” Dr. Robert Pugliese, a clinical pharmacist at Thomas Jefferson University, says.
“This semester we have hosted electronics shops, 3D printing labs, an indoor gardening class, an exercise class, food education seminars, the list goes on. All of this has been possible thanks to the unique group of organizations that came together there, all with the goal of giving kids the opportunity to learn about health, technology and how they can be the designers of their future,” Pugliese adds.
He continues, “Not only did Comcast create the environment for this all to occur, but they also nurtured the relationships that led to this wonderful synergy of talents coming together to provide a unique experience for these kids.”
Dr. Bon Ku, an emergency room physician at Thomas Jefferson University a pioneer in the design thinking space and a key mentor in the program, touts the Collaboration Studio’s early success.
“It’s a great opportunity to impact health in the neighborhood,” Dr. Ku says, stressing the differences in overall neighborhood health in urban areas.
Aisha Dennis, program manager for Philly OIC, has also been impressed with the program so far.
“The students love it,” Dennis says. “They not only love the STEM aspect, but they love the mentoring.”
The day after the event, Pugliese declared it a success.
“The event was a great opportunity to connect with some great organizations working to better communities in Philadelphia and also showcase some of the great work the students of HA Brown [elementary school] and Thomas Jefferson University have been doing this semester,” he says.
Other tenants of the Oxford Mills building include the Womens’ Community Revitalization Project (WCRP), the Penn Graduate School of Education and Education Design Studio, Teach For America, Artwell, the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia and Gryphon Cafe. Most of these, along with developer D3 Development, were represented at the event.
The Comcast Collaboration Studio is located at 100 W. Oxford St. in the South Kensington section of Philadelphia. Comcast is currently in discussions with additional business and community partners interested in utilizing the space.