UNM’s Innovation Academy takes off

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UNM student M. Frank Erasmus presents his business idea at UNM\’s first Elevator Pitch Competition, part of the university\’s new Innovation Academy. About one-fourth of the 30 to 50 students who will pitch at the upcoming Elevator Pitch Competition on Nov. 13 will be innovation scholars enrolled in the academy this fall. ( Courtesy of UNM STC.)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The spirit of innovation is gripping the University of New Mexico this fall, with 198 students now enrolled in UNM’s new “Innovation Academy.”

The program launched this semester to provide more direct experience and real-world skills to students in entrepreneurship, critical thinking and problem solving.

“We hoped for maybe 25 students to dive in during this first semester, but we have nearly 200,” UNM President Bob Frank told the Journal. “The Innovation Academy has taken off like a rocket.”

Nearly 80 innovation-related classes are now being offered at colleges campus-wide, said Innovation Academy Director Robert DelCampo. Most of them are existing courses that were re-tooled to include more experiential, real-world learning opportunities, although a few classes are entirely new.

“We’re providing additional opportunities to help students gain the entrepreneurial and real-world skills that are so in demand in today’s job market, such as critical thinking and problem solving,” DelCampo said. “That can open more doors for them in the future.”

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About 1,400 students are actually taking innovation-related courses this fall, since every college at UNM actually re-tooled at least a few of their classes for the Innovation Academy.

But the Academy’s 198 “innovation scholars” are going further than other students by attending special presentations on entrepreneurship and innovation, DelCampo said. They’re also adding experiential learning and skills-building activities to their coursework, such as special projects or internships.

Some will also participate in UNM’s new Elevator Pitch competition, where students present new business ideas for up to $12,500 in cash prizes, said UNM Chief Economic Development Officer Lisa Kuuttila. The competition is scheduled for Nov. 13, with five prizes of $2,500 to be awarded.

The Innovation Academy is part of the university’s Innovate ABQ initiative, through which UNM is working with public and private sector partners to establish a high-tech research and development zone Downtown. Once Innovate ABQ is up and running, students can enroll in an on-site, capstone Innovation Academy course that will offer direct, hands-on experience in entrepreneurship and economic development.

The Innovation Academy will soon expand into a minor program for innovation scholars. In the meantime students enrolled now can build merits for participation later in the degree program, and possibly in the capstone course at Innovate ABQ. Innovation scholars earn bronze level recognition for one year of participating in the Academy, silver for two years, gold for three and Lobo for four.

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