COLLEGE PARK — The University of Maryland (UMD) announced that it will be opening a Discovery Center in Crystal City, Virginia intending to increase innovation among faculty and students as well as collaboration with Crystal City and the Amazon Headquarters on Aug. 21.
The 8,000-square-foot facility will open in the fall of 2020. The facility will bring new opportunities for UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, the A. James Clark School of Engineering, the College of Information Studies and the Robert H. Smith School of Business.
The Discovery Center will serve as a gathering place for students and faculty working on problem-solving, said Ken Ulman, chief strategy officer for economic development at UMD.
There they will be able to partner with private sector partners in Crystal City and hold symposiums on topics such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and other software and engineering challenges. Sometime in the future, they might hold classes there.
“As of now, it’s a really important hub for activity linking the activity, which as we know will be dramatically increased in Crystal City around Amazon HQ2, linking that area to the flagship university of the state of Maryland for those purposes and many others,” Ulman said.
The Discovery Center goes hand-in-hand with the educational experience of the students as it will provide opportunities for internships, jobs and real-world experience.
President and Executive Director of the Crystal City Business Improvement District (BID) Tracy Sayegh Gabriel called the Discovery Center an exciting example of the community’s transformation into a world-class technology hub.
“The BID is excited to welcome and work with the innovative companies, dynamic nonprofit associations and educational institutions that are locating here with increasing velocity,” Sayegh Gabriel said. “Not only will the Discovery Center provide area residents and businesses convenient access to UMD’s esteemed faculty and extensive offerings, (but it will also) help produce a new generation of tech-savvy students who can fill the jobs being created by Amazon and other cutting-edge employers throughout the region.”
The main reason the school chose to house the Discovery Center in Crystal City is Amazon, Ulman said.
With the campus located only 11 miles from where the second Amazon Headquarters will be located, an estimated 25,000 it is jobs expected to bring and the other companies that will relocate there, comes the opportunity for a level of energy and innovation never seen before in this region.
“This is a modest location of 8,000 square feet, but we thought it was an important move to make sure the region understands that the University of Maryland College Park produces more computer science graduates than any school not only in the region but in the country and it is important to make sure the region understands that UMD produces more scientists than any other university,” Ulman said.
Although Amazon announced last week that it would not come to Prince George’s County with its anticipated merchandising logistics center in Westphalia, Ulman pointed out that the headquarters in Crystal City will draw workers from Prince George’s County which provides an opportunity for the region to work together.
“This region needs all hands on deck, that means all counties, all universities, to work together to make sure that we can support it because we know that there are going to be thousands of folks who get jobs at Amazon over in Crystal City who are going to live in Prince George’s County,” Ulman said.
With all of the new developments quickly coming into Crystal City, Crystal City Civic Association President Carol Fuller said the residents have welcomed the changes.
“Unlike a lot of other areas, the people in our area in Crystal City basically welcomed, for the most part, Amazon and the upcoming development,” Fuller said. “We’re living through a lot of construction right now for not only Amazon, but all of the other things coming in, and the University of Maryland would go into one of the other buildings that is pretty much ready that Amazon is going to occupy the vacant space in.”
As for the UMD Discovery Center, not many details have been made public to the community, but they are interested in learning more, Fuller said, especially since the last technology center in Crystal City moved out.
“It was greatly appreciated, it was one of the most vibrant in the country when they went bankrupt,” she said. “It was a place where people could come, and the equipment was there for them to use to do all kinds of engineering projects and artistic projects. We were very sad to lose that.”
The primary concern with the new developments is the need for increased transportation, Fuller said. However, the deal has worked out to be an advantage for the area as they can get funding for projects that have been needed for years such as a second Metro entrance and improvements to Route 1.
The UMD Discovery Center will bring another positive development to the changing area, Fuller said.
“I’m glad to see this, I think we are in an up and coming area, and people just have the wrong ideas about Crystal City,” Fuller said.
According to Ulman, announcements about specific projects that will take place at the Discovery Center will come at a later date. Right now, the focus is on making sure that College Park and Prince George’s County are a part of the new ecosystem that is taking shape in Crystal City.
“We want to make it clear from University of Maryland, but also from a Prince George’s County regional standpoint, that just across the river, again 11 miles from our campus, is a place of energy and we want to be clear that we are apart of this region and a part of that energy,” Ulman said.