The gateway to the future for many University of New Mexico students may soon run smack through the heart of Albuquerque at an “Innovation Academy” that UNM is planning for Downtown.
The academy will be nestled within Innovate ABQ, which UNM and city officials envision as a high-tech research and development zone that proponents hope will turn the city’s core into a center for technology-based economic growth.
But while Innovate ABQ will bring businesspeople and scientists together to build new high-tech ventures, UNM’s Innovation Academy will create a hands-on training ground for students to get direct experience in entrepreneurship and real-world problem solving.
Through the academy, students from all disciplines will earn credit toward their degrees through coursework and projects that teach business and management skills. At its core, the program will strive to instill a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in everything that students do, said Doug Brown, dean of the Anderson School of Management.
“We want to motivate students to become entrepreneurs and innovators by nurturing those skills within the Innovate ABQ environment,” he said. “The Innovation Academy will be heavily vested in experiential learning. It will aim to draw students from all academic disciplines across campus.”
That’s critical for New Mexico’s future economic prosperity, which depends on an educated workforce steeped in innovative, entrepreneurial approaches to development, Brown said.
“We can’t compete with cheap labor or depend on extractive industries in the long term, and we can’t pin our future on attracting industry to move here from elsewhere,” he said. “The most attainable future for us is if we can start up our own businesses and industries here, and a big part of that depends on graduating students who are empowered with entrepreneurial skills.”
A committee of deans and faculty from law, business, the arts, engineering, architecture and education is working to identify potential programs and curriculum for the academy, said committee Chairwoman Carol Parker, a law professor and interim senior vice provost.
The group will develop a proposal this year based on a process to elicit broad input from faculty at colleges and departments throughout the university, she said. But whatever the outcome, the academy’s program will be based fundamentally on experiential learning.
“Leaders in educational reform are realizing that what’s important is not just what you know, but what you do with what you know,” Parker said. “It’s the part about application of knowledge in an innovative way that the academy hopes to establish. The idea is to bring real-world problem solving into the classroom.”
That includes collaborative projects where teams of students work with faculty and community representatives at Innovate ABQ to solve local and state problems, such as water and energy issues, public health and diversifying the state’s economy, Parker said.
In addition, the academy will facilitate many internship opportunities with companies in the research district, while strongly encouraging students to pursue startup businesses of their own, said UNM Chief Economic Development Officer Lisa Kuuttila.
“There will be many opportunities for students to pursue business ventures in co-working spaces,” she said. “They’ll be able to apply or compete for funds to land a cubicle, a desk and other resources to try out their business ideas.”
Perhaps most important, students will benefit from complete immersion in Innovate ABQ. That includes residency at dorms to be built at the Downtown site, providing full-time interaction in a real-world research and business environment with ample networking and mentoring opportunities.
“We’ll have a broad, direct presence at Innovate ABQ where students and faculty engage with one another and with the community,” said UNM President Bob Frank. “It will be a vibrant learning lab where students live, work and play.”