The university launched its biggest-ever presence at the South by Southwest festival this week, featuring eight U-M speakers in four separate conferences, a prominent booth in the exhibit hall, a party that drew hundreds of area alums and a daylong pitch competition for students.
South by Southwest started as a boutique film and music festival and has grown to become one of the biggest arts and technology fests in the country. Spanning two weeks and a half-dozen conferences in Austin, Texas, it brings together executives and creative types from industries ranging from tech to gaming to music to movies.
The U-M presence at SXSW, now in its second full year, is coordinated by the School of Information.
UMSI and the College of Engineering, Stamps School of Art & Design, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, Alumni Association, Office of University Development, Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the Office of the Vice President for Global Communications all came together to present the events, making it one of the largest off-campus U-M efforts by multiple schools and colleges.
The exhibit hall booth is seen by up to 85,000 people. It features a custom-made wall that incorporates a 65-inch LED TV and 19 iPad Airs, one for each school and college at the university. The wall will become a permanent installation in the Student Activities Building lobby when the show is over, giving future U-M students the opportunity to swipe through information about the schools that might interest them.
Inside the booth, which runs through Wednesday, presenters from several schools give mini-talks. Passersby can see the Michigan Autonomous Aerial Vehicles team demonstrating its self-piloting helicopters; a demonstration of UMSI information and development on Google Glass; 3-D printing; Egg-Bot printing on ping pong balls; a virtual reality Quidditch game; and a host of other hands-on fun.
“We had been exhibiting at South by Southwest for several years, and had seen what a great match it was for U-M,” School of Information Dean Jeffrey MacKie-Mason said.
“Each year, we spoke with hundreds of prospective students and employers who wanted to hire our graduates. It was a natural step to reach out to the other colleges and units that might want to be involved. We’re thrilled to be part of such an all-campus effort.”
Every part of the show is made at U-M: a committee from all the participating units helped to guide the events. Designers at UMSI and Global Communications created the look and feel of the booth, from the furniture and signage right down to the maize M cut into the blue carpeting.
The Cabinet Shop built the back wall, cubes that hold other displays and a 10-foot counter unit. The Sign Shop made everything from the 3-D acrylic signage on the cubes to the custom holder for the Google Glass unit being used by UMSI for its presentations at the show. And – Moving services transported the whole thing to Austin in one of its trucks, emblazoned on the side with a giant hashtag (also courtesy of the Sign Shop): #mgosxsw.
All day Saturday, entrepreneurial teams from the Ross School, UMSI and CoE competed as part of the SXSW 2014 Business Idea Challenge, created and organized by the Ross Entrepreneur and Venture Club. The challenge, which included a dozen teams from universities including Stanford and MIT, featured competitions all day, with finals judged by angel investors.
Saturday night, a party at Lamberts Downtown Barbecue drew hundreds of alumni from the conference and the area. In past years, the event had filled to capacity and then some, with lines stretching down the sidewalk. This year’s event was expanded to allow even more to attend.
U-M faculty and staff also played leading roles in the conference tracks.
Charles Severance, clinical associate professor of information, was on the board for SXSWedu this year, and he presented a panel on massive online open courses (MOOCs), held a collaborative chat with students from his Coursera course on internet history, technology and security, and had a book signing for his how-to guide, “Python for Informatics.”
Other presenting faculty and staff include:
• Andrei Markovits, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and the Karl W. Deutsch Collegiate Professor in Comparative Politics and German Studies, who discussed the trends that shaped modern sports cultures in the United States and Europe during his presentation on “Talking the Talk: Sports Lingo in Pop Culture” at the SXsports track.
• UMSI incoming faculty member Silvia Lindtner presented on “Made with China: Hackers, Makers & Manufacturers,” examining the MakerSpace movement in China, during SXSW Interactive.
• Dawn Tilbury, professor of mechanical engineering, and computer science and electrical engineering, participated on a “Welcoming the Robot Workforce” panel at SXSW Interactive, examining how people will increasingly rely on robots for all kinds of work — and what that means.
• Social Media Director Nicole Sunstrum presented at SXSW Interactive on Sunday about building a successful and sustainable citizen engagement initiative during a panel on “Democracy Took over My Government, Now What?”
• Jordan Maleh, director of digital marketing for athletics, participated in the “Arena vs. Couch: The Battle of Game Day Experience” panel during SXsports, examining how sports teams, media companies and tech upstarts will package sports experiences to engage fans increasingly likely to watch games at home.
• Katharina Reinecke, assistant professor of information, and computer science and electrical engineering, joined with fellows from MIT and Harvard Medical School to discuss the WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) nature of research subjects and strategies for countering that bias at SXSWedu.
• Paul Conway, professor of information, will describe at SXSW Music an online music archive project from The Ark and African field recordings, which attempts to overcome the barriers to accessing, cataloging and playing live recordings.