MIT has a long history as an innovation powerhouse, so why does it need an innovation initiative now? For an explanation, Spectrum asked Vladimir Bulović and Fiona Murray, co-directors of the MIT Innovation Initiative and associate deans for innovation in the School of Engineering and the MIT Sloan School of Management, respectively.
Bulović: “The Innovation Initiative is driven by our students’ demanding from us a change — change in the way we educate them to be more effective. We live in a new age focused on immediacy. Technology allows us to be much more connected, and consequently, Millennials have much more awareness of social needs. The ability to access information 24/7 has led young people to say, ‘I can make a difference. And I want to do that now, rather than wait until I graduate.'”
Murray: “MIT students today have a very different view of their careers, what sorts of organizations they want to work for. It’s no longer a view that you necessarily work for one organization for your entire life and wait 25 years before you can have a project of impact in the world. And they also often want to build their own organizations. Given this, students are asking, ‘Which institutions are going to educate me to be a global innovator in the most effective way?'”
Bulović: “The Innovation Initiative brings forward in a coherent way what MIT has done ever since we formed as an Institute. We have always looked forward, asking, ‘How do we reimagine the world? How does the world get better through our next action?’ Today, those questions are being asked again by students, who want their next action to make a difference in the world.”
Murray: “MIT is very much at the forefront, saying, ‘Yes, you still need a deep disciplinary education in engineering, science, or social science, but we also want to give you a more well-defined set of tools, expertise, and capabilities to have an impact in the world more rapidly and effectively. And we want to give you a place to practice.’ As educators, we need to encourage openness to experimentation, to encourage all students to try things, to learn to fail, and to try again. And we have to create the portfolio of projects and activities that allow students to do that, and in doing so, build their confidence and leadership skills as innovators.”
Bulović: “Our students are really asking us to develop with every one of them a project portfolio, a set of experiences that are quantifiable beyond grades, that at the end of their MIT education they can point to and say, ‘I changed a life through my action’ or, ‘I developed this piece of software that made life better for this set of people.’ They want to be constructive in the world, and if we can give them the tools to do that, if we can be creative enough with them to reimagine what that education is, we would help advance the world tremendously.”