Union College Strategic Priorities
From University Innovation
Union College is one of a handful of liberal arts colleges that offer ABET-acredited engineering programs. What does this mean? For one, we have a culturally, racially, and gender-diverse campus community. Our engineering students are offered exciting academic opportunities outside of the technical engineering curriculum. Academic excellence, a variety of competitive sports teams, and an abundance of campus leadership opportunities attract some of the finest college applicants to spend four years studying on the beautiful campus in upstate New York. Students are the primary focus of our professors, who also successfully maintain cutting-edge research projects, and develop new ideas and technologies in the sciences, as well as the humanities and the arts.
One has every reason to believe that a school with as tight interdisciplinary connections as Union College, it would be a national leader for innovation, and a catalyst for the transition of STEM into STEAM (where A stands for arts). Well, we are not quite there yet. In general, students at Union are very content (and we have every reason to be), which makes it difficult to identify exact gaps and spaces for improvement. On a 2,200 student campus with The following will be targeted in the six strategies for innovating Union:
A. Encouraging creativity
B. Technology-based learning
C. The visual vs. the verbal/written
D. Innovative study space(s)
E. Campus involvement navigation
F. Engineering and liberal arts in conversation
G. Community division by major, culture, and Greek/non-Greek
H. Target career opportunities
After discussing some of these with professors and deans, two clear messages have been communicated over and over again:
1) Innovation and creativity on campus should not be tied to academics
2) What to do is unclear, but what not to do is crystal clear.
The real question is: How to make busy and overinvolved Union students happy, while also ensuring the happiness of the faculty (which matters in gaining support and funding for just about any initiative), particularly one that involves a long-term change?
Looking at the Innovation Engine, encountered in Tina Seelig's TEDx Crash Course on Creativity and UIF Meetup Presentation, there are two apparent tracks Union can take:
1) Educate "the Self", i.e. the students.
2) Change "the "Environment" on campus.
The first would mean incorporating innovative ideas in the classroom environment, and ensuring that innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship find their way into every class, one way or another. The second would mean providing the perfect setting for students to explore innovation on their own, outside the classroom through organizations, design spaces, and projects (This seems to be the preferred approach of Union faculty). To say that both can be implemented right away would be far too ambitious, but one without the other would not allow Union College to achieve its full potential and become the leader for applying innovation and creativity in upstate New York.
Each of the following strategies is designed to significantly expose and educate students in the areas of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. Note that the strategies listed below are in no particular order of completion.
Strategy #1: Creating a More Interdisciplinary Atmosphere
Tactic #1: Daily Interdisciplinary Sessions for Engineers
I would say that this is the one idea I feel most stongly about. Although I will work diligently to help make Hristina's idea a reality, I really feel as though Union College Engineering classes should be not be changed, but enhanced in a particular regard. As a mechanical engineer, I have been through quite a few fundamental engineering courses up to my current Sophomore year. The courses are full of math, physics and fundamnetal engineering concepts that make up the truly versatile mind of a professional engineer. But, some key aspects are missing from these courses: innovation, a bit of entrepreneurial focus, and an interdisciplinary atmosphere. I agree that the fundamenal courses are extremely important for the deelopment of a competent engineer, but the world needs dynamic engineers for dynamic problems. I would like to propose an idea to my school's Dean of Studies, as well as the head of the engineering department.
I want to see engineering immersed in liberal arts. Engineering students are allowed to take liberal arts courses from a bountiful selection, but liberal arts and engineering are not intertwined as well as they should be here at Union; there is a difference; there is a problem with this. Although I believe the fundamental engineering courses are imperative to the proper education of engineers, I realize that the fundamental coursework has become the curriculum for engineers, which does not allow students to step outside of the bounds set forth by the common curriculum. The liberal arts aspect of Union must exist with the engineering aspect, and currently it doesn't. My idea consists the design and implementation of a project idea throughout the length of a term. Engineering majors, economics majors, art, music and political science majors would be able to work together to bring the idea to fruition. Each member would be able to contribute to the process of forming the idea into a well-constructed presentation. The presenation is not a normal presentation though. I plan to have the presentations presented at General Electric Global Research Center, which is less than ten miles away from Union College. There are eight Ge Global Research Centers in the world, and the orginal one is less than five miles away from Union College. Currently, there are basically no existing relations bewteen the research center and Union; I desperately want to change this. I would like for the presentations to be held at the research center. The research center has state-of-the-art presentation space, and many brilliant people to fill the space. The Union College students would be able to present in front of engineering and business professionals, and would be able to acquire magnificient feedback from such professionals.
In a sense, my idea is similar to what entrepreneurs experience on their journies:
- forming an idea
- speaking to others in one's specific discipline as well as people across many disciplines; decide if idea is plausible enough to make a reality
- develop idea into a product, pitch or presentation
- attract potential customers
- make a difference
There is a vibrant liberal arts atmoshphere at Union College that has been well established for a long time. However, the engineering element of Union needs to amalgamate fully with the liberal arts element to make for a truly invigorating and versatile education. I hope to make a lasting impact on my campus with the support of my faculty and fellow students, and the guidance of the University Innovation Fellows Cohort.
UPDATE: Reached out to departments. Still trying to implement this however.
Strategy #2: Developing a Culture of Creativity
Tactic #1: A Maker Space
Following the UIF Meetup and the incredible experiences at Stanford's Design School, I (Hristina) have been buzzing about the overwhelming importance of setting up a maker space on Union's campus. And what's even better, everyone who has heard this, has agreed with a resounding 'YES!' One important thing to consider is the background idea that will be specific to Union's maker space. It is apparent that everyone gets excited at the mention of white boards, white table surfaces, blank studios, post-its, prototyping supplies, and good coffee. The challenge comes with ensuring that this space will live up to its full potential, which means that it will truly bring together students from all disciplines, and foster conversation and collaboration between STEM students and humanists, artists and social scientists.
The Robotics Lab at Union College currently contains a 3D printer and blank vertical surfaces and is considered the grounds for forming a maker space on campus. The only issue is that its core idea is robotic design and computing, which although wonderful, should not be the core of the campus-wide maker space. With this in mind, I will begin the campus-wide initiative: U-CREATE. This will be a campus-wide initiative for students to get involved in hands-on projects, workshops, as well as rapid prototyping and ideation sessions as a prelude to designing and pitching the idea of the maker space to committees and departments with funding.
-Hristina Milojevic and Sean Farrell
Hristina has worked diligently on finding a viable location for the makerspace, as well as searching for the best aesthetic and educational options for it. Her idea has resonated with all who have heard of the idea. Sean has joined Hristina on this mission, and together, they are both working toward a successful launch of Union College's first MakerSpace, dedicated to enhancing the virtues of collaboration and innovative thought.
Currently, the closest thing we have to a makerspace is a room the Union Collaborative Design Studio. This room is the home of the various Makerbot 3D Printers that we have as well as the high-resolution Stratasys Objet 3D Printer. These printers are presently only able to be used for specific student projects and by faculty. As of this year, Union hired a Makerspace Coordinator who is assisting in the maker movement on campus. My goal is to have a newly designated room with full whiteboard walls and up-to-date learning technologies along with trained access to equipment that the school already has implemented
Target date for U-CREATE formation: June 1, 2016
Target date for maker space set-up: June 1, 2017
Tactic #2: Creativity Curriculum
There are numerous possibilities for integrating creativity into the class curriculum at Union. One should use Google's 20% model. Union College requires that each student, regardless of their major, completes General Education Requirements, among which the First Year Preceptorial (writing class) and Sophomore Research Seminar seem to particularly fit the 20% model. The idea is to provide no constraints on what students do with 20% of their class work, yet require a project execution or presentation upon completion of the particular project students seem passionate about. It would also not be graded, and would simply count towards or against participation in class, i.e. ambitious students would have to complete it in order to perform well in the class, but they would have a chance to set off on a journey of academic, personal, or professional exploration as they go along.
-Hristina Milojevic and Sean Farrell
Target date for 20% model idea pitch: June 1, 2014
Target date for 20% model implementation: April 1, 2015
In addition to this, and following up on tremendously high Union faculty interest in Tina Seelig's online course "Creativity: Music to my Ears," I will be advocating for creating Union's very own course on creativity. This idea is in its early stages, and I would primarily be speaking with Professor Erika Nelson, the head of Union's German Department, who is tremendously interested in the topic, then making the final decision between having the course be student-led, or searching for an intersted faculty member.
Target date for Creativity Course design: June 1, 2014
Target date for Creativity Course implementation: April 1, 2015 (Spring Trimester)
We are currently in the progress of creating a one time Innovation, Creativity, and the Entrepreneurial Mindset (ICE) Course that will for certain be offered the winter term of the 2016/2017 school year to all students. We have met with all the appropriate deans and it is fully in swing.
Within the course, there will by a myriad of guest speakers and projects all relating to ICE. As fellows, we are all in charge of organizing the course as a whole. This means organizing the guest speakers, syllabus, grading criteria, and whatever else is required for a new course.
Tactic #3: Visual and Technology-Based Learning
The change in academia is at once fast and slow:
1) If there is a new technology to be developed, or research to be conducted, professors jump right in! -> FAST
2) When it comes to using computer technology or innovative learning tools, most professors settle for a marker and a white board, or at best a PowerPoint presentation. -> SLOW
Sometimes, this is all one needs (so don't take this as a judgement). Other times, it would be quite nice to branch out and do something entirely different. Imagine a class that only allows homework submitted as Prezi's or youtube videos. Wouldn't that be cool? What about a class that required in-class visualization of the task and the solution (whether that be a numerical problem, or a literary argument)? What about teaching visually? Too often, we focus on words and writing. Way back in high school, I would study geography by drawing my lessons. This means that I would briefly sketch the map of the country or continent in question, then add a whole lot of connecting lines, and additional drawings portraying anything from lessons on tourism in Spain to the natural resources of Canada.
In the long run, the goal is for at least 50% of Union's professors to incorporate alternative ways of teaching and learning into their classes. The specific requirements will be set by the U-CREATE team, as we work on tying the maker space idea with the idea of technology-based learning.
Target date for requesting to join faculty committe meetings: May 1, 2014
Target date for getting feedback on the success of including technology and visuals: January 1, 2015
Tactic #4: Innovation and Creativity Campaign
By surrounding our campus with signs of innovation and creativity then students will be more likely to partake in entrepreneurial activities. From this mindset we developed a concept based off of the #thismatters campaign started by William Jewell College. We will be working with the communications department to develop an ad campaign that will showcase the works of students around campus. This could be students who are leads in our aerogel lab, students who are starting their own companies, students who choreograph their own routines, the possibilities are endless. After interviewing several key people to make this possible (including the President of our College and Head of Entrepreneurship Courses) it seems as though this concept will be well received.
UPDATE: Met with Communications (2/25/16), and they are willing to work with us on creating at least a social media campaign on this. We are meeting Monday with a higher up in the Communications department to discuss a physical banner campaign.
Projected Launch Date for Campaign: September 2016
Tactic #5: Increase Communication among the Union Student Body
Various departments at Union provide information concerning events and activities in many different locations. However, email and social media accounts are cluttered with so much information from so many different sources that it can be overwhelming for both the students and faculty. This creates an atmosphere where important information is often missed which makes if difficult to drive a culture filled with creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. One solution to this problem would be to condense all related information in one email sent out every morning. This would create a central place of information for the entire Union College community.
Target date for discussions with ITS and Communication Departments: April 1, 2016
Target date for getting email system implemented: May 1, 2016
Tactic #6: Increasing Seminars, Workshops, and Classes Related to Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Union College needs to further develop innovation and entrepreneurship on campus. A course titled ICE (Innovation, Creativity, and the Entrepreneurial Mindset) will be implemented in the Spring of 2017, however this is merely the tip of the iceberg. We should now start to host more consistent seminars, workshops, and classes pertaining to innovation and entrepreneurship. These activities will all be interactive to allow students to start thinking and delving deeper into these topics. External speakers that are experts in these fields should be invited to talk to increase student attendance. Once these seminars and classes are well-established amongst the campus, this will likely increase overall innovation and entrepreneurship on campus, thus creating a general culture change. Since this is not immediately feasible, this can likely be implemented within a three year period. Gradually Union College can start to host seminars and workshops until they are a regular and consistent part of our community.
Target date to start implementing more seminars and workshops: September, 2017
Strategy #3: Bridge the Professional and the Academic
Tactic #1: Broadening Target Industries
The beauty of liberal arts education is that students don't have to select their majors early on. They are free until the end of their sophomore year to decide on what they want to do. One dificulty that seems to occur is finding the right industries to intern with. The exception to this rule is engineering students. Unless their decisions are made early, Union engineers won't be able to graduate on time, which makes a lot of students opt out of late declaration of an engineering major. This means that most students don't have a clear idea about what kinds of internships and summer programs to look for, unless they are in engineering.
Broadening target industries in engineering means going above and beyond the current information on local industrial and business offerings. It is a true challenge to find research-based internships in engineering on one's own. It is also a true challenge to obtain information about opportunities in attractive locations that are far from New York. Taking into consideration that a lot of our students do summer research at Union, and not nearly as many of them join a graduate program in their field, it will be tremendously beneficial for the Career Center to broaden its view of the target positions for engineers.
Even in other disciplines, one common trait seems to be business. After Union, students are so well-trained in working with people and so ambitious, that they typically get plenty of opportunities in business administration. But doesn't that eliminate the potential to create? In the long run, and with the goal to encourage a greater variety in the scope of positions Union Alumni hold, broadening our target industries ties in well with the next tactic.
Target date for pitching in the proposal: September 1, 2014
Target date for implementation: January 1, 2015
Tactic #2: Workshop Series on Startups and Venture Funding
A former president of ASME at Union once said that there was an engineer who advised him to start his own company. The ASME president found this idea rather amusing, and the entire group laughed as he quoted the engineer saying "If you can't find a job, just create your own company, and you'll have one."
There is a lot of truth in the statement, but back then this didn't resonate with a group of talented mechanical engineers. Perhaps it wasn't the right group, but it is far more likely that there is a lack of student exposure to entrepreneurship, which I wish to change.
Ranging from 3DS to StartUp Institute and Lean Startup Machine, there are plenty of startup programs that hold a promise on improving and fostering interest in entrepreneurship and idea development in Union students. The plan is to bring in one organization each year for a weekend or week-long on-campus program that students can participate in.
Words "venture capital" are just as rarely heard on campus as the word "startup." But, how could one start a company without initial capital? The plan is to have a pilot talk on venture capitalists, followed by a workshop, to get students initially informed on the posibilities about funding their startup, and depending on interest, continue to hold annual or monthly talks and workshops on startup businesses and venture capital.
Target date for first speaker event + workshop: June 1, 2014
Target annual time: Spring Trimester (between April 1 and June 10)
In spring of 2016 we will be holding a business startup/entrepreneurial bootcamp in conjunction with a local business called Wise Labs. So far over 120 students will be participating in a series of weekly workshops all pertaining to business and startups.
Tactic #3: Team Building Workshops
Teamwork is present on Union's campus in a variety of disciplines, but the teamwork and team building skills of our students can be significantly improved. For one, experience shows that open-mindedness is the key to team success. Sometimes, the least successful teams are those consisting solely of the best students in the class. Why? Because each member of the team may want to implement only their individual idea. Furthermore, class teamwork does not take into account issues of student diversity, of their social and academic expertise, but also of their personal background, such as gender or ethnicity. Certain people seem to be more or less inclined to enforce their ideas on others, speak up, or not speak up. Without the right team strategy, there is the devastating chance of missing ideas of great potential! Utilizing the maker space that is outlined as the first tactic of strategy 1, the expectation is to be able to develop a better approach to teamwork. How should we do this? Through a series of workshops on team building with experts from a vareity of disciplines beginning with engineering, and moving into other fields.
Target date for selecting the first speaker: June 1, 2014
Target date for the first event: September 15, 2014
Targeting one workshop per trimester, i.e. 3 per year
No Updates available
Tactic #4: Student Leadership Development Weekend (SLDW)
Although Union College has a variety of clubs and events to choose from, leaders also often feel a disconnect between the different organizations on campus. This is only partially the fault of the student board, whom has yet to have a direct opportunity to reach out and expand to other clubs and organizations. One solution to this problem is to host a yearly student leadership development weekend for student presidents on campus in order to promote diverse collaboration and organization. Every year before the beginning of the school term, club presidents would be invited to participate in a leadership workshop where in addition to leadership education, each leader would walk away with at least three tangible things:
1. A calendar plan for a list of predicted events for the rest of the academic year.
2. A list of board member expectations that the presidents want to relay to the members.
3. A list of solutions for the problems that the organizations have run into.
The goal of this weekend is to set higher expectations for our current campus leaders so that they know how to accomplish/ achieve more with their organizations throughout the school year. One of the responsibilities of being a campus leader should be to know exactly which direction you want your club/ organization to go in. More than that, I want leaders to develop visions for their organizations and realize how their clubs fit the needed niche on Union's campus. In addition to developing this vision and creating a plan for what they want to see happen, this SLD weekend would act as an essential catalyst for collaboration of diverse clubs on campus. In order to accomplish the goals that these leaders have set, it's also important to define your expectations to ensure that the people working with you (your board) recognizes and follows the same path into achieving your goals with you. This way, members are clear as to what their job entitles them to do and club leaders know when to address a situation in which members may fail to achieve these expectations. Lastly, it's inevitable that these club leaders will have run into similar problems that prohibit them from succeeding in certain projects/ ambitions, so it's important to dedicte time for problem solving. During this time, organizations will share with each other what kind of problems they face and how to overcome these issues moving forward. By having these tangible documents on hand, administrators will be able to understand and communicate more with student leaders on their progress throughout the year. Therefore, not only are we strengthening inter-organizational relationships, we are also able to enhance admin-student relationships as well.
Potential Workshop Sessions (in addition to brainstorming)
1. Community Service Bonding
2. What is a Leader? Defining characteristics and expectations for the "one in charge".
3. Creativity and Design Challenge (Understanding the potential of the Leader)
4. How to Tap Into the Money (Recognizing the resources on campus)
5. What Do You Know About Me? (Getting to know these individuals and defining a common goal amongst the grouop)
Tactic #5: PITCH FEST
The goal of the Pitch Fest is to set higher expectations for our current campus innovators so that they realize the importance of interdepartmental collaboration and build on their ideas throughout the school year.
One of the responsibilities of being a student of a liberal arts college is that you are exposed to most, if not all, departments at your school, and thus you have a general idea of collaborative efforts. In addition to developing a vision and creating a plan for a Maker Space, this competition would act as an essential catalyst for collaboration of diverse groups on campus.
In order to accomplish the goals of the selected idea, it's also important to define your expectations to ensure that the people working with you (your board) recognizes and follows the same path into achieving your goals with you. This way, members are clear as to what their job entitles them to do.
- Talha Janjua
Tactic #6: LEVERAGE YOURSELF
To solve the problem of poor utilization of external sources, I simply provide people with these information and how to utilize them. However, the difficult issue is to get enough people to show up and be motivated enough to actually commit to these opportunities.
I will host a small career fair called "Leverage Yourself" showing students how they can get access to and use online job posting platforms: Piazza, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, etc
Since college students typically show a lot of concern for career options and windows, I would assume that an opportunity to learn how to network and get your resume reviewed is intuitively valuable. I would try to get my event as much exposure as possible through social medias, posters and mouth to mouth. In the case that my assumption is false, I would connect to the career center and try to get this event advertised and endorsed. With this tactic, I should be able to reach the maximum amount of students.
- Justin Nguyen -
Tactic #7: U SHADOW DAY
To combat the problem of disconnection between students and alumni, I propose a U Shadow Day at Union College, in which students will choose to shadow an alumnus of their choice who is working in the students’ interested fields. The program will be open to students but upperclassmen are given priorities considering that they are likely to have a more concrete idea of what they want to do after graduation.
A similar program has been implemented in many different colleges and universities, but U Shadow Day will be the first program of its kind at Union College. Because Union students have a long winter break (6 weeks), the program is likely to happen then, but Spring Break is not ruled out as a tentative option.
In order to make the program a success, there needs to be a close collaboration between Career Center, different departments and students on campus. Since this program will increase students’ knowledge on their interested fields and foster a stronger connection between alumni and the school, I expect all parties mentioned above will put in their best efforts.
For more information on the application process, resources for the program and marketing strategies, please see the link here.
- An Nguyen -
Idea Pitch YouTube Video Project
'Union College Student Priorities'