Thoughts From an Innovation Meetup

*University Innovation Fellows is a program out of the d.School at Stanford meant to create changemakers in higher education. Find them at universityinnovationfellows.org *

Earlier today I got home from an innovation fellows meetup at La Salle University. I’m a little jealous of their setup. They have 8ish fellows like we do at UD but they’ve really got the identity down. Unlike our experience of this being a thing we do, for them UIF is their main activity. Instead of how I do a bunch of different things and try to sneak in some side projects for UIF they’re just doing all innovation all the time.

I like that concept. In addition to the obvious big wins they have like the maker space, they seem to get along really well and are recognized as influencers by administration.

This isn’t to say that we’re undervalued or ignored at UD. It’s more like we get exactly what we ask for, and not much else. We have to see our projects through from ideation to completion and the check gets written for us. On paper this seems fantastic–I’m sure many people wish they had this type of setup. For some reason, however, we’re not taking that much advantage of it. I think it’s got to do with the community.

The more “successful schools” have the fellows do their own recruiting for the next year. This is different than UD, where a faculty member will pick a certain student and direct them to the application. This approach lacks community and can rely on extrinsic motivation if the faculty member mentions the annual meetup. I am definitely partially guilty here.

While extrinsic motivators can work, I think the motive here is important. If you read the manifesto (link), adding a line about “yeah I get to fly across the country to visit google” seems out of place. It’s designed for people who really truly want to and believe they can change the world, starting in higher ed. We’d then think that we have to have, cultivate, or recruit based on intrinsic motivation.

To go back a little in the story, I think of this as an issue because I felt like a real dumbass at the meetup this weekend when we had basically nothing to show for UD. I think the national meetup with 300 people we can definitely hide a little. But with 30 in a seminar setting, its much harder to find. This showed up a lot in the administration resistance and community building sessions. The two of us representing UD got to engage everyone else on our problems that seemed quite basic compared to what others were working with. Now, this isn’t a bad thing particularly as a school in its second year, but several wished they had our problem because it seems easy.

As for the solution, we have verbal confirmation that we can lead the recruitment. This likely won’t change the hand-picked nature we currently have, but it will allow them to engage the current fellows well before they’re asked to do so in the training. In effect, we want to focus our efforts on setting the next group up for success and somewhat cutting our losses on ourselves. This isn’t because we’re incapable, but that we weren’t and didn’t set (ourselves) up for success. To be quite honest I’m not sure what this solution is going to look like, but I’d love for it to engage different parts of campus than engineering and entrepreneurship. It’s weird how innovation can be so exclusive.

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