Innovation Campuses

In this post I share some of the contrasting views I found about the recent trend of innovation campuses. I was introduced to the idea of an “Innovation Campus” in 2018 when Virginia Tech announced their innovation campus in conjunction with Amazon’s revelation that its new HQ2 will be located in Northern Virginia.

Optimistic views 

Innovation campuses are being built by universities with the goal of equipping graduates with the cutting edge skills and knowledge that leading tech companies and industry innovators are looking for. Universities want to shrink the skills divide between “what our economy needs to grow and what our graduates are prepared to offer” according to president Tim Sands [1].  Besides Virginia Tech, other institutions that are taking the innovation campus approach include Wichita State, University of Utah, University of Iowa, University of Rhode Island, Cornell, Northwestern, and Stanford.

Innovation campuses are usually designed in ways to promote collaboration, creativity, and applied learning [2]. There is a lot of optimism and excitement around the topic of innovation campuses that shows up in articles online by the universities themselves and others. The optimism seemed like an intuitive reaction from my point of view as a graduate student who went back and forth between industry and graduate school. There is so much that universities can adjust in their curriculum and teaching methods that can put graduates in a better position when they work in the industry, ideally graduates would start innovating from their first day on the job instead of facing a steep learning curve. That’s where creative partnerships are important, and innovation campuses are seen as places that foster such partnerships.

There are success stories that are being shared as results of innovation campuses. For example, Cornell Tech shared that more than 60 startups were founded by Cornell Tech alumni since 2014 [3]. This and other examples show the impact on fostering the entrepreneurial mindset among students.

What the critics say

I came across this interesting  take on the idea in an article by The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “The Campus Innovation Myth” [4]. Their point of view is that although innovation campuses resulted in breakthroughs, there were many “disappointments”.

They start by talking about these “Myths” by examining how well universities were able to commercialize scientific discoveries. While the research shows that it is true that universities don’t commercialize their patents at high rates, but I think that the point of innovation campuses isn’t only that. It doesn’t have to always be a patent, additionally, it is a norm in the startup world to lose money in the early stages.

The article continues to mention how universities don’t necessarily deliver to their promises of innovation. It also raises the concern of influence of tech giants in higher education. Additionally, the authors mention how universities aim at healing divides of access and equality, however, it is unclear how partnering with tech companies in urban areas would achieve that goal.

I think that these are not necessarily myths but challenges facing innovation campuses. They are things to think about moving forward while asking questions such as what shape will innovation campuses take, how would they evolve, who will benefit the most, and how?

[1] https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-campus-innovation-myth/?cid2=gen_login_refresh&cid=gen_sign_in

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/07/education/edlife/innovation-campus-entrepreneurship-engineering-arts.html

[3] https://tech.cornell.edu/impact/alumni-startups/

[4] https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-campus-innovation-myth/?cid2=gen_login_refresh&cid=gen_sign_in

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