September 1, 2009
by Ian Gatley
An invitation to discover the pioneer within
The opening of the Center for Student Innovation marks a major milestone for RIT toward becoming the “Innovation University” that President Destler imagined in his inaugural address when he asked, “What if RIT students had the experience of working on complex societal problems with students from different majors on teams in which each student brings his or her own discipline-specific knowledge to a cross-disciplinary effort to find real solutions? Isn’t that the ideal way to get students thinking about how they can make a contribution to humanity after they graduate?” The dramatic appearance of the center—a spectacular and very different-looking new building—immediately provokes students to wonder, “How do I get involved, and what exciting things will I be doing there?” As the first director of the center, I’m delighted to invite you all to participate and to share in this adventure through a broadly inclusionary process where anyone is allowed to have a good idea—in a place we can all work together on whatever we can imagine. I’d like for you to come visit the Center for Student Innovation and talk to me about your own involvement, and I want you to be aware that at the center, students will be engaged and recruited from all RIT programs—enticed and supported by mini-grants and as participants in special events and workshops, and enlightened with skills to transform their dreams into inventions and their inventions into successful agents of improvement. But I can easily guess that you’re still hungry for specific examples. To stimulate your imagination, here’s a sample of what has already happened at the center: Electrical engineering had a competition for new ideas in spring quarter and received an impressive variety of project proposals. Prizes went to “The RIT Ride Share” (a dynamic ride-sharing system for the RIT community); the Habitat for Humanity Sustainable House Project, a sustainably built, energy efficient Habitat for Humanity home; and the People Project Finder, an online tool designed to help enterprising RIT students connect with the skilled people around them. I provide these examples to help you imagine what’s possible once you take part too. Let us bring together teams of students, faculty, staff, clients, businesses and community organizations to develop hands-on innovative solutions, with the center providing a venue to host seminars and workshops—a clearinghouse of RIT innovation resources and a home for the RIT Innovation Hall of Fame. Just imagine how students will gain a deeper appreciation and practical understanding through first-hand experience with the processes of innovation—the sequence of steps that lead from identification of problems worthy of our attention, through considerations of novel approaches and solutions via real-world methods to implementation of revolutionary changes that have significant impact on the world around us, either through commercial products or services or through radical change in social behavior of the kind that improves lives. Repeated exposure to these patterns of innovation, and an appreciation of historical, cultural, social and environmental contexts as guideposts to future innovation will endow RIT students with the ability to join or lead multi-disciplinary teams. Our students will develop the ability to take risks, to expose their works-in-progress, to improvise, to admit ignorance when appropriate and to explore always. They will emerge able to shape processes and to achieve goals, and through collaboration, they will learn an appreciation for other disciplines and for diverse perspectives. It will be fun, and it might change your life, but only once you choose to join us.