Over an elaborate brunch at the Broadmoor Hotel, 27 representatives of the college mulled over a transformative new idea.

The idea? The “Innovation Institute.”

Last month, a group of 27 students, faculty, and staff members from the CC community came together to brainstorm ideas on how to make that dream a reality.

The concept of an Innovation Institution is at this point just an abstract idea, with a central mission to foster the creative and entrepreneurial spirit prevalent among CC students and provide resources to investigate today’s challenges.

The intent of the brainstorming session was to probe different perspectives and explore how this mission may be achieved.

The idea for the Institute emerged during the Year of Planning and President Tiefenthaler’s Strategic Plan. However, how exactly to go about establishing an Innovation Institution was never delineated.

The brainstorming session provided a starting point for future pilot programs and plans.

Currently, there are five signature programs that embody the goals of an Innovation Institution: The Big Idea, Public Interest Fellowship Program, Keller Venture Grants, State of the Rockies, and the Global Sustainability Summer Internships.

All of these programs encourage students to research current issues and think deeper about potential resolutions. They also all provide students with the possibility of putting those resolutions into action. Thus, these five programs will serve as building blocks for future steps with the Institute.

“I wasn’t quite sure really what this institute would manifest as—a new building, a new wing of the library, a streamlining of offices, a think tank,” Addis Goldman, a senior who participated in the brainstorm, said.

Although this confusion was not entirely resolved following the brainstorming, Tiefenthaler does intend to establish a physical space for the Institute, but not until sufficient funds are raised.

Until then, the college is preparing to work on a few pilot programs. Ideas for those programs resulted from the Oct. 19 session. Students can expect to see some of these projects within this academic year.

The students in the brainstorming session were specifically selected by Tiefenthaler or the President’s Office to participate. The students and faculty that were present had some connection or fundamental interest in the project. For example, Trevor Barron, a junior who won the Big Idea competition last year, participated in the session.

Individuals worked in smaller groups of five or six and progressed through a series of exercises to stimulate conversation on potential outcomes of this institute.

They discussed what the physical space would look like and how technology might be used.

Although CC is not modeling the Institute off of any particular establishment, the technological focus at the new Denver University library has been frequently discussed.

The session concluded with each group developing their own pilot program to test in the upcoming months.  The programs that they developed had to incorporate two or more of the current programs in a collaborative manner. Thus, the brainstorming session mirrored one of the principle aspirations of the Institution –  collaboration.

“There was fantastic energy in the room,” said Mary Frances Kerr, Associate Director of Foundation Relations . “Everyone was really committed to thinking about how students connect their learning to their lives, how the college works to create new knowledge, the ways that CC is doing that best and most effectively already, and then finding new ways to support that innovative spirit that is so CC.”

Given the success of The Big Idea Competition last year, Tiefenthaler is dedicating immense effort to creating a more competitive grant process, complete with an institutional review board, and will hopefully attract the attention of outside donors to help establish these types of funds.

One suggestion for another competitive grant was the idea of an “Impact Grant.”

“If a student gets a Venture Grant for $1,000, the next grant they would aim for would be an Impact Grant, for $5,000,” Goldman said. “The Venture Grant would allow the student to go see some cool stuff and do research about what they’re interested in. The Impact Grant would be rewarded to students whose venture grant research is in need of an actionable amount of money.”

For instance, if a Venture Grant allows a student to research a certain area, an Impact Grant would allow that student the money to actually institute a resolution based on their research.

“CC students are creative, out-of-the-box thinkers and are interested in finding ways to both ‘do well and do good,’” Tiefenthaler said. “The Institute will provide the support and resources for students to pursue their passions and turn their ideas into action so we can graduate leaders, who will potentially change the way our world operates for the better.”

As the planning stages continue to unfold, students are encouraged to take part in the existing signature programs and the pilot programs that will be implemented later this year.

“It is great to encourage student input,” Barron said. “While this project is still in the planning stages, students can have a significant impact on its development. It’s up to them.”

Megan Masuret, Staff Writer

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