Reimagining Higher Education Through Sustainable Innovation - Utah Valley University Center for Excellence and Innovation

Innovating the student experience in Higher Education through community-facing, interdisciplinary, high-impact projects.

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  • Education
  • Technology

Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

While a few faculty and staff at our university are working to promote the core value of engaged learning, the systematic tendency of higher education is to focus on the student as a product rather than a stakeholder. In the wake of declining enrollment and reduced retention rates, it is clear that the opportunity cost of higher education has become too high for many students.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

The Utah Valley University Center for Excellence and Innovation incorporates a novel reinvention of the higher education experience that fully embraces students as stakeholders who work in conjunction with faculty, staff, and industry professionals to solve community-based problems as part of their credit-bearing educational experience. Within this system, we incorporate innovation and design thinking to unleash the human capital of students that has been traditionally trapped in 19th-century teaching models. Stepping back and looking at the process holistically, the Utah Valley University Center for Excellence and Innovation incorporates the university core theme of engaged project-based learning by moving towards community-facing, interdisciplinary, high-impact projects. This transition will enable students to increase their problem-solving capacity, enhance their ability to work within multidisciplinary teams and provide much-needed industry expertise that will increase the likelihood of job placement as well as civic and global engagement after graduation. This vision pays fidelity to the mission of higher education.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

I believe that innovation is the key to reinventing higher education experience. Frustrated as I watched many of fellow students leave their undergraduate education experience without a career or job that they truly want, I started looking for ways to ensure that my own college experience was valuable and meaningful. What I have discovered is that project-based engaged learning provides academic excellence while also preparing students with real-life soft and hard skills needed to work in the industry. I am passionate about helping other organizations adopt the method of learning that I have found so valuable.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Mobile Makerspaces: One of our students saw a need for a maker space on campus. While iterating through the problem, the student recognized that if you can’t have an allocated space for innovation, you can make innovation mobile. The student used grant money to purchase an engineering cart and fill it with the supplies needed to create simple prototypes and would take the cart to classrooms. This cart and student were featured in the MIT journal, and on the Stanford Engineering website. Utah Leading in Effective Actionable and Dynamic Education (ULEAD): One of our students who had done an internship at the State Board of Education, worked closely with a legislature to create a clearinghouse of best-practices in K-12 throughout the state. Using principles of Design Thinking, the student and legislature were able to create a way to bring together and disseminate the best practices.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

We believe that innovation on a university campus shouldn’t be restricted solely to a physical space for ideation and creation. Though that is a future objective, the Center for Innovation and Excellence uses a unique holistic-based system that promotes innovation without needing physical space on campus. We approach innovation in higher education through a model that begins with student-led project-based learning from the first year of college, until graduation. We integrate the currently available resources on campus, with a wide swath of educational, professional, and community stakeholders

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

The beneficiaries of this project are three-fold. Primarily, students have the opportunity to gain real-world and industry experience that will allow them to succeed in careers after university. Second, by restructuring academic courses and faculty incentive programs, this initiative removes barriers between students and professors that have previously stifled innovation. Lastly, by creating a physical center for innovation we have fostered partnerships with local cities to transform undeveloped land into an externally-facing center for innovation. The communities that comprise UVU’s service region will benefit tremendously from the Center for Excellence and Innovation. Whether it be cities, schools, or small businesses, many value-adding organizations struggle to find the time and energy needed to solve a never-ending barrage of problems.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

In the next year, we will be moving forward in the development of an Excellence and Innovation Initiative that will foster inter-disciplinary learning across campus with the help of faculty, administration, and students. The flagship product of this initiative will be a project matching app that uses data analytics to reliably match students with projects that they are interested in. As we continue to prototype and test this model, we will move towards an actual physical community-facing location for innovation to happen on campus. Partnering with the local city of Vineyard, Utah the student innovation center will connect the residential community closer to campus. These projects are entirely student-driven and led.

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Mentors/advisors

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • T-Mobile page or contact


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Photo of Rachel Wu

your problem solving technique seems really unique!

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