Skip to main content

About the UNM Innovation Academy

Tiffini Porter and Robert DelCampoLearning Innovations — It’s a Mindset

The information network is rapidly disrupting the hierarchical structures of business and academia and transforming the way we learn, work and live. College students today are more social, more tech-savvy, and more diverse. Additionally, research universities are evolving because faculty demographics are changing.

iA is a mindset shared in the UNM community that asks, “how do we teach and learn best so that students are prepared for life beyond college?” Based on the Rainforest theory of a bottom-up approach to innovation, iA encourages different people and groups to come together to create. It’s a cross-pollinating approach to finding solutions to problems and developing new ideas based on the belief that solutions can be found when people with different backgrounds and skills come together to work on real problems and needs coming from companies and the community. This type of experiential, or hands-on, learning prepares students to be successful in careers and work places in the real world and deepens their core subject knowledge.

iA is not just for students but for faculty too. Urban-based public universities give access to all, especially first-generation students, and have high research excellence.

One of the goals of iA is to change the way our university teaches based on the way students learn. The growth of the program will distinguish UNM from other universities because we are reinventing ourselves using our state’s rich scientific, artistic and cultural resources and because UNM already has broad buy-in from faculty and students.

In addition to acquiring knowledge in core subjects, students need to learn particular skills, often called soft skills, in order to be successful in the workforce. These include leadership skills, such as supervising, team building, goal setting, planning, decision making and ethical judgement, and higher-order thinking, such as critical thinking, problem-solving and creative thinking. Skills reflective of emotional intelligence, such as self-discipline, self-awareness, persistence, empathy, interpersonal communication and collaborative abilities, and personal qualities such as honesty, adaptability, and a strong work ethic are equally important, as are job-related technology skills. These skills can and should be learned whether students are pursuing a degree in a STEM discipline or liberal arts, fine arts, or business discipline. The best way to foster these skills consistently among a large student population is through more inter/multidisciplinary, problem-based, learn-by-doing experiences.

iA is not just for students but for faculty too. Urban-based public universities give access to all, especially first-generation students, and have high research excellence. The trend today is for public research universities to embed themselves within their communities. iA curriculum will allow faculty to adopt innovative learning techniques, such as providing more experiential opportunities for students. To create these learn-by-doing learning experiences, teachers, business, and the community must become partners, particularly among the people, companies and organizations that will be associated with Innovate ABQ, to create meaningful and challenging learning experiences for students.

Roughly half of today’s faculty are Generation Xers and Millennials and roughly half are Baby Boomers. Generation X and Millennial researchers and teachers like team-based science that emphasizes collaboration focused on societal problems within their communities and like to express their ideas in a fluid, informal way. Boomer researchers tend to prefer a more individual and competitive approach. But beware of broad generalizations. Many of UNM’s most prolific faculty inventors are boomers who are extremely collaborative and whose innovations and commercialization activities impact the local community. So while demographics are useful in guiding how we accommodate new learning styles, technology and the information network is changing the way all of us learn and work. The iA program is designed to support this way of working. It will change the learning environment at UNM.

The formal program launch is in the fall but UNM already has pockets of energetic, creative programs. Faculty in some departments are already piloting new courses that combine important soft skill development, experiential learning, and community engagement opportunities. The Schools of Engineering, Fine Arts, Architecture, Business, and Honors College successfully launched a capstone design project that is being developed into a design minor that will complement students’ primary fields with design and aesthetic elements in demand in the workforce. It was modeled on the Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media (IFDM) program, a successful partnership among the Colleges of Arts & Sciences and Fine Arts and the Schools of Engineering and Management.

UNM has business plan and pitch competitions and collaborative teaching and learning facilities. The iA vision is not to have them located within the business school or in separate entrepreneurial programs. The iA plan is to integrate these programs and learning environments throughout the university to create a critical mass of people with necessary skills and new ideas that will make a significant impact on our economy and community.

It’s for Everyone

Wherever you work, whether in someone else’s business, a nonprofit, a government agency, or on your own, you need to be good at critical and analytical thinking, solving problems, planning and organizing projects, collaborating, and communicating with people. Entrepreneurial doesn’t just apply to people who want to start their own companies but actually describes anyone who can successfully organize and manage any project, plan or task with energy, drive, and creativity.

And even failure is instructive. Working on real problems where no clearly “correct” answer exists, challenges students to try out new ideas. Sometimes they will fail in the process, but failure can be as enlightening as success, fostering critical thinking, patience, and personal resilience.

The iA curriculum is about infusing innovation into existing degree programs and adding new programs throughout the university. Courses will be interdisciplinary and reach out to every undergraduate and graduate program from engineering to fine arts, from philosophy to chemistry, and everything in between. No one has a monopoly on good ideas.

It’s a New, Nontraditional Curriculum

The iA program begins in fall semester 2015. Faculty submitted 75 proposals for new courses and 63 courses are being developed for the 2015 fall semester. They will be cross-listed so that students from different disciplines can work together. Students will be able to major or minor in Innovation (Bachelor of Integrative Studies) or receive a designation as an innovation scholar. A graduate program is being developed to give students even more career opportunities outside the classroom. In partnership with Albuquerque Public Schools, an iA-endorsed MBA for Educational Leaders is being developed. Internship programs are in the works, starting with the expansion of the UNM-Disney Creativity & Innovation Internship Program. A student iA video competition (“Why iA?”), innovation major naming contest, student pitch competition II, hosted by STC.UNM, and an inaugural iA speaker series are also planned for the fall semester.

Funded by generous donation from

NM Gas Co. logo