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.
 Strategy #1: Developing a Culture of Creativity
 Tactic #1: A Maker Space
Following the UIF Meetup and the incredible experiences at Stanford's Design School, I 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 into designing and pitching the idea for the maker space to committes and departments with funding.
Target date for U-CREATE formation: June 1, 2014
Target date for maker space set-up: June 1, 2015
 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.
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)
 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
 Strategy #2: 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)
 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