How does a university introduce a cutting-edge academic model, one based on invention, innovation and entrepreneurship?
By rolling blogging together with real-time celebrity lectures (and required attendance) -- all in a first-year forum unlike anything other universities have ever attempted.
Polytechnic Institute of New York University's newest undergraduate course presents 465 first-year students to the joys and rigors of creative thinking in its Innovation and Technology Forum. The forum is the latest entree in the Institute's mission to educate the next generation of global innovators. Other institutions offer graduate courses in entrepreneurship, but NYU-Poly's forum is the first designed specifically for the entire class of first-year students. It is also one of the first to supplement in-class discussions with online learning for such a large number of students.
By introducing students immediately to the curriculum that NYU-Poly calls i-squared-e -- invention, innovation and entrepreneurship -- students become totally immersed in and comfortable with thinking creatively in the fields of science, mathematics and engineering.
The forum is also unusual because undergrads elsewhere rarely have the opportunity to meet and work with the leading inventors, journalists, scientists, business executives and entrepreneurs who are scheduled to be guest lecturers.
"The experience brings i-squared-e to the forefront of our students' educational experience, introduces them to a rigorous multi-disciplinary approach that will guide them in the coming years, encourages scholarly interaction with their peers and faculty and gives them insight into the strategies of successful inventors and entrepreneurs," said Iraj Kalkhoran, associate provost of undergraduate academics. "A start like this gives our students an incalculable advantage over their entire college career and beyond."
Said David Lefer, visiting assistant professor and director of the Innovation and Technology Forum: "A growing body of research indicates that economic growth depends more on technology and innovation than almost any other factor. In the face of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, fostering the study of science and engineering takes on special urgency."
The entire class attends weekly lectures on hot-button issues such green technology and biotechnology, hearing stories along the way of the trials and successes of scientists, mathematicians and entrepreneurs. Guest lecturers include:
- Kevin Maney, former chief technology columnist, USA Today and the author of several books on innovation;
- Vivian Lee, vice-dean for science, senior vice-president and chief scientific officer for New York University;
- Tom Rolander, one of the founders of the personal computer industry in Silicon Valley;
- Namrita Kapur, social entrepreneur, microfinancier and environmental advocate; and
- Juan Enriquez, chairman and CEO of the Boston-based research and investment firm, Biotechonomy LLC, and founding director of the Harvard Business School Life Sciences Project.
Enriquez has been profiled in Fortune as "Mr. Gene;" Seed selected him as one of 50 individuals whose ideas "shaped our identity, our culture and the world as we know it," and Time asked him to co-organize the life sciences summit commemorating the 50th anniversary of DNA.
The class is divided into 13 multi-disciplinary blogging teams in which students discuss the lectures, selected readings and other course material that is accessible online. Each team is divided into mini groups -- five groups of seven students -- that compete against each other in innovation tournaments. Grades are based on blog postings, class participation and presentations.
Lefer noted that the presentations may be the most difficult part of the course for some students accustomed to the more traditional testing in science, math and engineering curricula. This non-traditional approach acknowledges that good oral communication skills are essential to doing well in a competitive environment, he said.
"Our new Innovation and Technology Forum is a breakthrough in higher education, said Jerry M. Hultin, NYU-Poly president. "Our faculty is assuring that all of our new undergraduates see how creativity -- combined with a solid understanding of science and technology -- can meet and solve the world's challenges in the 21st century. It's a powerful statement about the power of invention, innovation and entrepreneurship, and I expect it will shape the direction of many of our students' careers after they graduate from NYU-Poly."