Utilizing Off-Campus Spaces to Engage Third-Space Labor Across the Disciplines to Build Community Partnerships

Main Article Content

Katherine Rogan O'Brien
Courtney Price
Donnelley Hayde
Charlene Brenner
Jason Cervenec
Sathya Gopalakrishnan


This article examines the opportunities and challenges within academic labor of operating an off-campus space using the STEAM Factory as a case study. The STEAM Factory supports research collaborations across all disciplines and engages in community outreach that shares research outcomes and seeks to understand impact in a local context. Third-space labor makes the STEAM Factory model possible and drives collaboration, especially with community partners. The STEAM Factory has a membership made up of faculty, postdoctoral scholars, and staff supported by a program director, a faculty director, and a member-elected board of directors. As an organization, STEAM has been a detailed archiver of its own history providing a public report annually. To better understand the perspective of STEAM Factory members, and the nature of mentorship and workplace collaborations, the membership was surveyed on three different occasions: January 2018, January 2020, and January 2021. Surveys were followed up with structured interviews that addressed the rationale for collaboration among faculty. During the interviews, we found that for those conducting community research, the space and staff support has been integral to not only their ability to engage in community research but also their enthusiasm for community engagement. Through a discussion of the organizational history of the STEAM Factory, in combination with insights from membership feedback, this paper recognizes the role of third space labor, workers whose labor blends academic and support roles, in support of third places, places to gather that are not-home and not-work.

Article Details

Academic Labor in the Third Space
Author Biographies

Katherine Rogan O'Brien, Middlebury College

Katherine Rogan O’Brien is the program director at the Center for Community Engagement at Middlebury College. Prior to this appointment, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the STEAM factory at The Ohio State University. Her work includes researching STEM learning in both formal and informal settings including the formation and efficacy of interdisciplinary learning communities.

Courtney Price, The Ohio State University

Courtney Price is the research program manager for the Sustainability Institute and a member of the Executive Leadership Board for the STEAM Factory at The Ohio State University. She is also a doctoral student in the Department of educational students within the College of Education and Human Ecology at Ohio State. In addition to research development, Courtney’s work focuses on the broader impacts of STEM research and informal STEM learning.

Donnelley Hayde, COSI's Center for Research and Evaluation

Donnelley Hayde is a Researcher in COSI’s Center for Research and Evaluation, with over a decade of experience as an applied social scientist and museum professional. Her current research interests include cultural alignment in museum experiences, play-based data collection, and the role of cultural and social capital in informal learning.

Charlene Brenner, The Ohio State University

Charlene Brenner is the Program Director with The STEAM Factory at The Ohio State University since June 2014. During her time with the STEAM Factory, Charlene has worked closely with the STEAM Factory Chair and Board of Directors and has been responsible for strategy, planning, programming, and implementation of organizational activities that foster interdisciplinary conversations, research, and programming.

Jason Cervenec, The Ohio State University

Jason Cervenec is the Education and Outreach Director for the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at The Ohio State University. He led the development of the Columbus Climate Adaptation Plan, pursues external funding to make Ohio more climate-resilient, and bridges the researcher-practitioner divide to connect diverse collaborators in geosciences and climate change education.

Sathya Gopalakrishnan, The Ohio State University

Sathya Gopalakrishnan is a Professor in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics. An interest in understanding ubiquitous interdependencies between human decisions and biophysical processes that impact natural resources, specifically coastal and water resources, motivates her research. She is a founding member of the STEAM Factory at The Ohio State University.