Last Wednesday, Yale announced a plan to build the Center for Innovative Thinking, a University-wide hub that promotes innovation through workshops and skills-based classes.
The center’s mission is “to inspire students from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to seek innovative ways to solve real-world problems,” according to a Dec. 1 press release in Yale News. The center’s launch marks the administration’s latest attempt to further University President Peter Salovey’s goal to create a “more innovative Yale,” which he has emphasized since the start of his tenure in fall 2013.
“Innovative thinking is fundamental to a liberal arts education, whether you study engineering or art history,” Salovey said in the press release. “By fostering this important skill, the new center will be a vital contributor to Yale’s mission of educating leaders and improving the world.”
The center will be located in a building on Becton Plaza adjacent to the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design at the south end of Prospect Street, according to the release. Referring to the area as a prospective “innovation corridor,” University Provost Benjamin Polak said the University decided to locate the center at Becton Plaza to make it easily accessible to students from each of Yale’s 14 schools.
“The proximity in location and purpose for the two centers adds energy to both, and creates new educational opportunities,” said Vincent Wilczynski, director of the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design. “I suspect a number of initiatives will originate in one center, get assistance from the other, and in the end produce a result that is much stronger than if developed in separate innovation silos.”
He added that the current plan for the center identified its key components and functions, including student meetups, hackathons, Yale Entrepreneurial Institute student activities, workshops and skills-based classes.
However, Polak said the center will not offer courses for credit.
Although the construction of the center will be completed in 2019 at the earliest, the University has already begun searching for an executive director who will report to Polak. While the center will also be staffed with other coordinators including postgraduate fellows and alumni, Polak said the executive director will be the key person who will shape its program.
Polak said that with the new center — which was primarily funded by gifts from anonymous donors — the University hopes to build on the model of collaboration currently in place at the CEID, but with a different focus.
Noting that the CEID is focused on problems that can be solved by making physical products, he acknowledged that there are other kinds of problems that require groups to come together and work on ideas, not tangible objects.
“This will be a space for groups to work on problems like improving education in inner-city schools,” Polak said.
Wilczynski echoed Polak’s sentiment, noting that the CEID will remain the primary source for projects, courses, programs and interests that have a hardware or software solution and the center will play a similar role but for issues and applications that have system, policy or service solutions.
“Combined with the other developments at [the School for Engineering and Applied Sciences], the arrival of the Center for Innovative Thinking is a case of a rising tide lifting all boats in the harbor as more energy, creativity and innovation will result, all centered around the Becton Plaza,” Wilczynski said.
The University’s press release noted that diversity will be an “explicit part” of the center’s mission. According to Polak, the University hopes to engage students across race and ethnicity in innovative thinking.
“There is a slight tendency nationally for innovation to be the domain of third-generation white males, and the center will have programming focused directly toward being more inclusive,” Polak said.
The University will also establish a fund to encourage participation from underrepresented groups at the center.
Polak said it is also crucial that the center welcomes students with diverse academic interests.
“We want the center to have a broad reach,” he said, adding that it will be reaching out the Yale’s arts schools and humanities departments in addition to those on Science Hill.
Joan Feigenbaum, chair of the Computer Science Department, anticipates collaboration between her department and the center.
“If tech startups become a dominant part of the center’s mandate, then computer science students and faculty will certainly be involved,” Feigenbaum said. “I hope that the part-time faculty director and the executive director whom the University appoints will both have startup experience.”
According to a job posting for the center’s executive director position on LinkedIn, the director will create and oversee programming surrounding innovative thinking, “and will encourage and cultivate a culture of innovation, collaboration and experimentation with students from every school, while engaging the broader Yale community, inclusive of faculty, staff and alumni.”
The center’s executive director will also be responsible for developing partnerships and incorporating existing entrepreneurship programming, supporting collaboration and coordination across campus.