A Community of Innovators

April 07, 2011

At two Showcases of Ideas this week, the Innovation Task Force opened discussion on host of new proposals.

By Ruth Steinhardt

University budgeting isn’t a subject usually associated with passionate, community-wide discussion. GW’s Innovation Task Force, however, is changing that.

Over the past six months, the ITF has solicited a range of ideas from the GW community for increasing the university’s effectiveness, efficiency and innovation. Its members met biweekly to analyze and refine these innovative ideas, eventually narrowing the field to nine finalists:

• Executive Education - Develop and implement a series of contemporary seminars for executives with topics drawn from various university-wide disciplines.

• Healthy Campus - Deploy a comprehensive health management and wellness program for GW employees.

• Building Energy Efficiency Program - Create a comprehensive campus capital improvements energy project aimed at maximizing energy efficiency.

• January Term - Establish a three-week, intensive January term between the fall and winter semesters.

• International Summer - Develop an intensive summer community experience for international students.

• Master’s Degree in Research Administration - Create a new academic program in research administration.

• ESL Center - Establish a new intensive language training program coordinated by a new English as a Second Language Center.

• Improve Retention Rate - Enhance the GW student experience by implementing a strategic university-wide retention program.

• Bachelor’s Degree Weekend College - Create an accelerated, executive-style undergraduate degree completion program for working adults with classes delivered on weekends.

The finalist ideas are intended to identify new sources of revenue as well as reduce costs. Yet they are, as Provost Steven Lerman said at the Foggy Bottom Campus showcase on Wednesday, “not a budget-cutting exercise.”

Rather, the savings generated by these projects will remain with GW, reinvested in its academic priorities. Community participation is key to the ITF vision, and the success of its proposed projects depends, in large part, on widespread and enthusiastic participation, he said.

In two Showcases of Ideas this week – one on GW’s Virginia Science and Technology Campus and the other on the Foggy Bottom Campus – the committee took its final list to the GW community for feedback and fine-tuning. Six will eventually be selected for implementation.

At nine tables, one for each project in the final round, groups of students, staff and faculty discussed the implications, drawbacks and feasibility of the ITF’s proposals.

Suggestions ranged from the concrete to the conceptual. Focused on the proposaed campus-wide health initiative, for example, participants discussed broad ways to unify the initiative’s goals, but also proposed specific refinements -- like faculty- and staff-specific gym classes and improved access to preventative care. At a “New Idea” table, community members discussed needs they felt were unmet by the final list of proposals.

The showcases are “invaluable,” says Dave Lawlor, co-chair of the ITF Steering Committee, in that they help the committee target “key assumptions and questions” before choosing which projects will be put into practice.

So far, the model has been successful. The $17.5 million in savings and revenue enhancements identified to date will be augmented by the proposals outlined at the showcases this week, said Mr. Lawlor.

For more information on the nine leading proposals and the Innovation Task Force, click here.

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