Colleges and universities are often hubs of innovation, particularly when faculty and researchers are driven by the desire to improve learning and quality of living for students and the university community.

In fact, nearly all administrators (91 percent) in a recent survey say innovation is a top strategic or academic priority.

Most higher-ed institutions recognize the importance of innovation, and many are beginning to consider a position for a dedicated innovation officer, according to The Emergence of the Chief Innovation Officer in Higher Education, a new report from Russell Reynolds Associates.

Across the nation, two- and four-year institutions are supporting initiatives and programs that strive to bring innovative changes and experiences to their campuses and beyond.

Here’s a brief snapshot of higher-ed innovation:

1. Purdue University
The creation of a “data science for all” ecosystem is the goal of a new initiative at Purdue University that will make data science education part of every student’s learning experience on campus while also boosting research and partnerships to help grow the data-driven economy. The Integrated Data Science Initiative (IDSI) is focused on applying data science research to pressing fundamental and socially-relevant issues while establishing an educational ecosystem of data fluency to prepare students for the rapidly expanding future of a data-driven, knowledge economy.

“Data science—the grand interdisciplinary challenge to extract new knowledge from big data through advanced analytics—presents a transformational opportunity for Purdue,” says Jay Akridge, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and diversity. The initiative’s education focus includes a transformational component to prepare every Purdue student with a fundamental understanding of data science in their chosen field.

2. Penn State University
Student teams at Penn State are working on five different prototypes in this year’s Nittany AI Challenge, which funds potential solutions to real-world problems. Seventy-one teams applied, and from those applicants, 10 teams were awarded $2,500 to develop prototypes with AI tools. Five teams were awarded an additional $5,000 to develop a minimum viable product. Those five teams’ projects include a tool to help students map out their potential career path; an application that uses machine-learning algorithms to recommend effective course pathways; a portal students can access to search for a professor by name and/or research area; a tool that applies machine learning to scale-up competency-based learning at Penn State; and a solution to provide intelligent, personalized, and scalable guidance about opportunities at the university.

3. University of Michigan
Researchers at the University of Michigan are turning to big data to shed light on how humans understand and experience music. Four separate research teams will conduct projects applying data science tools, such as machine learning and data mining, to music theory, performance, social media-based music making, and the connection between words and music. Funding comes from the Data Science for Music Challenge Initiative through the Michigan Institute for Data Science (MIDAS). MIDAS is just beginning to support fledgling Data Science for Music research, and the long-term goal is to create sustained development for the research area. Projects will focus on understanding and mining patterns of audience engagement and creative collaboration in large-scale crowd-sourced music performances, understanding how the brain processes music through the Bach Trio Sonatas, the sound of text, and a computational study of patterned melodic structures across musical cultures.

4. Central New Mexico Community College
Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) has partnered with Build With Robots to introduce the fast-growing technology of collaborative robots (cobots) to New Mexico’s economy and to those interested in learning about the technology and applications of cobots. In contrast to conventional industrial robots, cobots are safer for working alongside humans to perform dangerous or repetitive work, from manufacturing tasks to painting to screw driving. They can be repurposed for new tasks easily without the need for complex coding, and they’re relatively inexpensive.

Build With Robots is housed in CNM Ingenuity’s FUSE Makerspace, located in the heart of the Innovation District in downtown Albuquerque. The FUSE Makerspace provides students, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and hobbyists access to high-tech machinery and computer software to design and prototype new products, create artistic works or pursue their hobbies while working in a collaborative, supportive environment. It is outfitted with equipment for wood, metal, and machine shops; electronics fabrication; laser and vinyl cutting; 3D printing; robotics; and screen printing.

5. University of Missouri
A multi-disciplinary research team from the University of Missouri has found that after completing an MU science communication training program, STEM graduates are more likely to be successful in communicating their research to the general public. Results of a rigorous program evaluation show a significant improvement in STEM students’ confidence in communicating science and presenting findings orally. In addition, students’ survey results showed that they had more positive attitudes toward preparing presentations post-training and indicated that they would continue to use the skills they learned in the future. In a series of experiments involving a representative panel of the general public, audience members who viewed the STEM students’ presentations before and after training rated the presentations as significantly improved after the training than before and said that post presentations seemed more credible.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura


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