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MIT Shares Progress on Innovation Initiative

Six months after kicking off its "Innovation Initiative," MIT recently revisited the school-wide effort to hear about progress. The initiative launched as a result of a report released last year that pondered the future of education at the Cambridge-based institute. The first recommendation made by the task force that developed the report was to set up an "initiative for educational innovation" that would act as a hub for experimentation. Among the new endeavors: new academic focus on innovation and entrepreneurship and an app to help students find makerspace resources on campus.

At an event on Monday, "Innovating as OneMIT," the campus community learned more about several of the projects under development:

  • Perhaps the most ambitious project is an undergraduate minor in innovation and entrepreneurship. The curriculum would focus on building a business, leadership, management and scaling innovation;
  • A related plan is in the works to develop the structure for an "innovation semester." The idea is to give students the resources and help they'd need to work on a "passion project." Said presenter Steve Haraguchi, a program manager and lecturer at the Sloan School of Management, there's a pressing need for a network to better connect students with experts. "I think we should recognize how valuable that [network] is, and how that's one of the most effective ways for students to solve problems — to connect with the right person at the right time";
  • A laboratory for innovation science and policy. This multidisciplinary center would study the process of innovation, do research on the topic and disseminate what it learns;
  • The "translational fellows program," which is currently being piloted, would allow a post-doc student to work one day a week on commercializing a technology that has originated from MIT's research;
  • The institute is considering how to open six to eight "global innovation communities," in sites around the world where students, instructors, alumni and corporate partners could collaborate;
  • Also under development, "Mobius," a Web and mobile app that would help users locate maker spaces and tools. Martin Culpepper, a professor of mechanical engineering, told the gathering that the institute has "more than 120,000 square feet of maker space on campus." Yet students don't always know where to go for the resources they need, what hours the equipment is available, what kind of training they'll need or how much it would cost them to use the gear. If a student needed a lathe, for example, he or she could type that into the app, and a map would be displayed showing all of those details; and
  • The department of mechanical engineering is also developing a "maker passport" for Mobius that would allow students to carry with them the credentials they need to show they're trained on the equipment they want to use.

The event also allowed students to show their own innovations made possible with MIT resources. For example, graduate student Kevin Simon shared work he has been doing as part of the Tata Center for Technology and Design, which focuses on coming up with solutions for developing countries. Simon co-invented low-cost, solar-powered pumps that give farmers access to shallow water for irrigation. Simon, who recently traveled to Mumbai to try out the pump in the field, told the group that "People with the know-how aren't working on this." He added that this is one of the "best things about the Tata Center: It always challenges and encourages us to reframe the problem."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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