Nearly a year after university President Wallace Loh’s inaugural address in which he pledged to foster a more innovative campus, plans for a new center that would expand innovative efforts beyond the traditional business and technology sectors realms is officially in the works.
Although specific plans for the center — including who will lead it and how many new courses will be offered to students — are not yet concrete, Loh said he hopes to announce details by the end of the semester. While it’s too early to determine whether officials would require incoming students to complete a class in innovation tailored to their field of study, Loh said all students should be required to learn innovation in some capacity before they graduate.
The goal of the center, officials said, is to extend research and innovation to fields that are not typically associated with entrepreneurial pursuits, such as the social sciences or public policy.
“In the 21st century, we can no longer just be a research university,” Loh said. “Your obligation is not just to create new knowledge; your obligation, if it’s what you want to do, is to create this new knowledge, this new idea, into a new business, into a commercializable product.”
Vice President for Research Patrick O’Shea said incorporating research and innovation to all university departments isn’t just about encouraging the creation of businesses, but about training students and faculty to craft ways to use education to improve society as a whole.
“It’s the difference between being educated as an explorer or trained as a tourist,” he said. “The future requires us to have leaders, or explorers, who can push the boundaries of knowledge forward. … It’s about creating students who are innovators, who will observe what they see around them, question it, analyze it and innovate and act upon it.”
The center will contribute to the university’s efforts to meet the University System of Maryland’s goal of creating 100 new university companies in the next decade, which is outlined in the system’s strategic plan.
The university has three centers that focus on entrepreneurship and innovation: the business school’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship; MTECH, which focuses on innovation in technology; and the Office of Technology Commercialization, which deals mainly with patents and licensing.
The new center will expand the resources of these centers to the rest of the university, beyond science and technology. O’Shea said entrepreneurship does not always have to lead to businesses or products; he said he hopes to see researchers collaborating in areas such as social innovation, potentially using innovative techniques to improve a public school system.
“If you’re talking about innovation in policy, the goal is actually to change public policy, to change laws,” which can be even more difficult, he said.
Additionally, Loh said he hopes to reach out to graduate students and faculty about potential ideas they may have and to learn what they’ve been working on — instead of waiting for them to approach administrators — as well as emphasizing interdisciplinary research across the university.
“We need to be proactive and go out and find ideas rather than sit in our office and wait until people come to us,” Loh said.
While officials may consider requiring students to take an entrepreneurship and innovation class in the future, O’Shea said the purpose is not to add another graduation requirement but to provide students in all disciplines with the tools to create solutions.
“It’s not as if there’s one-size-fits-all,” O’Shea said.
The center will not detract from the university’s primary goal of educating students, Loh said, but it will better prepare them for the workforce.
“If we really want to have an impact on Maryland, we come back to the basic mission of a university, which is not to create companies but to educate students,” Loh said. “That’s why I want every student at Maryland to have exposure to become an innovator and an entrepreneur.”