Recommendation 3: Create an Innovation Institute
Colorado College is not your typical liberal arts college. It appeals strongly to certain kinds of people — those with a strong sense of self-confidence and curiosity. High-achieving students from around the globe are drawn to CC because they’re excited to learn off the beaten path. They see learning as an adventure and are motivated by the rigor and intensity of the Block Plan. As the only liberal arts college in the Rocky Mountain West, we have a special opportunity to harness this spirit of the West — innovation, creativity, and big-picture thinking — to produce real-world answers to complex questions.
Our innovative and adventurous spirit — which grew out of our founders’ ambition to build a world-class institution of higher learning to educate citizens for the New West — defines us.
Our aim is to develop an Innovation Institute to provide resources, structure, and encouragement to students and faculty as they investigate social and environmental challenges, understand the context in which they exist, identify sustainable solutions, and put them into action. By offering students and faculty a place to go from theory to idea to practice, the Innovation Institute will bring together the skills of the liberal arts — creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication — with our own innovative spirit and commitment to making the world a better place. This will position the college to do an even more powerful job of demonstrating the vital connection between doing good and doing well.
Making connections across disciplines is at the heart of innovation — making it the best path to addressing some of the world’s most challenging issues.
We are fortunate to bring many assets to this exciting enterprise, including four strong programs that encourage students to use creative approaches to pursue their passions. Those include the State of the Rockies Project, with a decade of experience in using research and innovative approaches to draw attention to environmental issues in the region; and Keller Venture Grants, awarded each year to more than 100 students to help them undertake their own intellectual adventures as individuals or in collaborative groups. Other assets are The Big Idea, a year-long workshop for students interested in learning how to build a business and become an entrepreneur, leading to an annual competition that funds the best idea; and the Public Interest Fellowship Program (PIFP), which gives students practical experience in working on critical issues in our region by placing them in Front Range nonprofit organizations for summer- and year-long internships.
Currently, these programs help students take critical steps in the innovation process, but they are disconnected. For example, State of the Rockies and Keller Venture Grants help students — as individuals or in groups — identify and understand important problems. State of the Rockies goes a step further by disseminating research on problems that are identified or understood. The Big Idea helps students imagine solutions to problems that are identified and understood, and PIFP offers students front-line experience in our region. By connecting these critical components, the Institute will serve as an incubator of sorts where students imagine, develop, and test ideas at all levels — and then go further by launching solutions.
In the process, the Institute will increase our scope and range by launching new initiatives that complement our current strengths. Driven by student interests and led by faculty and alumni mentors, these efforts will draw attention to key issues in the region and create opportunities for students to act as social entrepreneurs.
When it achieves all parts of its mission the Institute will be a sandbox for problem solving from beginning to end. It will help students and faculty identify and understand problems, disseminate research, craft solutions, launch solutions in the practical world, and with the PIFP, sustain those solutions as organizations as well.
With so many alumni involved in education, for example, there is much interest in developing a program like State of the Rockies that is focused on research and creative approaches for K-12 education in our region. Another idea is an Innovation Fellows program for alumni, parents, and community mentors who are social entrepreneurs or members of boards. These experienced professionals could mentor students and partner with many on campus to engage in solution-based thinking. Drawing these new and existing programs closer together will enrich each one and provide the resources that students and faculty need to flourish.
As the Institute evolves, faculty leaders and students will continue to shape and extend its scope. Even now our scholars are thinking creatively about how this new part of the academic profile might one day include outdoor education and a growing international focus on combining adventure, scholarship, human health, and social change. Others imagine organizing trips for students — and perhaps alumni — who want to know more about the impact today’s social entrepreneurs are making around the world.
To sustain the connections it needs to thrive, our Innovation Institute will be housed in a new academic setting of vibrant cross-disciplinary work. Our students are primed to be social entrepreneurs, and in the new physical space we are imagining they will find a place that supports their efforts to forge discoveries that make a difference in the world. This new academic building will house the Innovation Institute as well as a mix of departments and programs from across the disciplines.
- Big Idea Competition
- Innovators-in-Residence Program
- The Risk Project
- New Campus Space for Innovation
- QUAD Innovation Partnership
- Faces of Innovation project
- Fundraising for new building