How does your university stand up in terms of innovation?

From “data science for all” to Build With Robots, universities are bringing innovative experiences to their campuses

Most higher-ed institutions recognize the importance of innovation, and many are hiring a dedicated innovation officer, according to The Emergence of the Chief Innovation Officer in Higher Education, 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 are four colleges leading the way down the innovation path.

1. Purdue University
Purdue University is making 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 will 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 the Nittany AI Challenge, which funds potential solutions to real-world problems. Last year, 71 teams applied and 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. The 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, 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). 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.

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Laura Ascione
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