We Don't Want Our Students to Re-invent the Wheel…Or Maybe We Do!
Monday, April 25, 2011
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
By Gail E. Carberry, Ed.D. President
Quinsigamond Community College, Worcester, MA
Member, NACCE Board of Directors
I am always looking for ways to engage our faculty, encouraging them to look for better ways to lead students to success. "Success” in the current work-world for which we prepare our students requires that we shape graduates to work in rapidly changing environments, driven by high-speed communication, with low tolerance for stagnation of ideas. Repetitive work is quickly shipped overseas, but the success of the American economy flourishes on innovation.
At Quinsigamond Community College (QCC), we are looking at models to integrate innovative thinking within our Business and Technologies Division, using an "Entrepreneurship Across the Curriculum” approach. We know that entrepreneurship is much more than small business management – it is also big picture thinking and idea development. It requires that our students learn to think outside the box to develop a competitive business advantage – or perhaps to develop and market a "better mousetrap,” or maybe even to reinvent the wheel.
Consider the Dyson vacuum cleaner. One of my own personal peeves as a pet owner and homeowner was the annual replacement of my vacuum cleaner. Dyson solved that problem and now successfully markets a high end product, with no apologies for the price. How many times have we witnessed the birth of new product lines only to say, "I wish I'd thought of that?”
Prior to my work as a college president, I led development efforts at Springfield Technical Community College, including partnering on the initiation of its entrepreneurship academic enterprises. One of the curriculum models that we launched, A Course in Invention, I believe has huge promise for America. Imagine clip-board-bearing students surveying campus constituents about product "pet peeves.” Imagine teams of business and engineering students picking a project from that survey process around which to engage in new product design and marketing. Now imagine that scenario played out in 1,200 community college across the country. Finally, imagine the impact of such activity on America's future.
To accomplish such efforts, attention to the development of an intellectual property rights agreement is important. Protecting the students, the faculty and college in the design of new products is essential, especially where the college may benefit legally from an equity position in a new invention. This is relatively new turf for community colleges and more the realm of university research endeavors. But since when have community colleges shied away from breaking new ground? It may only take one major breakthrough to launch a new industry in our city and it may be one of our graduates who creates the next mousetrap.
John Ratzenberger – more popularly known as "Cliff Clavin” from the 1980s sitcom "Cheers” – founded the Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs Foundation to find ways to promote the lost art of tinkering within our generations of young Americans. John maintains that tinkering leads to creation of new products and new ideas, something not well integrated into the schooling of our youth. In partnership with NACCE, the Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs Foundation has funded a series of "summer camps” through community colleges to advance this agenda. Last summer, Quinsigamond Community College launched Camp COMET (Creative Opportunities in Manufacturing Entrepreneurship and Technology). Urban youth associated with the local Boys and Girls Club of America enrolled in the camp, which was led by two QCC faculty members – one from our Business Entrepreneurship department and one from our Robotics department. As the two-week camp proceeded, these young people blossomed. They brought their creative talents to bear through team designs of robots to accomplish tasks at their command. They reinvented the loose parts into something new.
Unleashing Creative Potential
Regardless of where our campuses are situated and regardless of the way we approach workforce development, our most salient goal is not just to push more "skilled” graduates into our community. Our charge must also be to unleash the creative potential of the entrepreneurial spirit in our communities.
By the way, during my tenure at Springfield Technical Community College, a pair of student entrepreneurs housed in the Student Incubator did re-invent the wheel. They designed a better skateboard wheel, secured a patent and sold that patent to a skateboard manufacturing company. Now that's what I call American ingenuity!