Faculty and staff use innovative mindset and skills to plan for future

First 'Corner CON' brings innovation and entrepreneurship to forefront at New Kensington
Dr. Kevin Snider, chancellor, presents Corner CON event vision to attendees

Penn State New Kensington Chancellor Kevin Snider presents the vision for Corner CON 2018. The event aimed to create and build awareness of innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E), engage participants through collaborative ideation and begin to articulate action steps the campus will take to integrate I&E on and off campus so that students are prepared with skills necessary for the jobs and opportunities of the future. Corner CON was held at The Corner, the campus' entrepreneurial center.

Credit: Corinne Coulson

NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — With the December 2017 opening of The Corner entrepreneurial center in downtown New Kensington, Penn State New Kensington has already seen how entrepreneurship and innovation can spark positivity and harness energy for the community. The campus, under the lead of Chancellor Kevin Snider, is now committed to spreading that spark even farther.

To explore how innovation and entrepreneurship can benefit not just the community, but also the campus’ current students and future students and stakeholders, Snider wanted to gather the input of faculty and staff.

“This world of innovation has developed tremendous opportunities for learning, teaching and discovery,” said Snider. “It has also alerted us to the fact that the skill sets that our students will need to thrive in the near future and over the course of their careers are changing. We needed to get the perspective of our faculty and staff on how we can use The Corner, which is our door to innovation, to get into this world in a big way. We also wanted to hear what they are feeling and seeing and thinking about in terms of innovation and how we can make this a larger part of our culture.”

Snider has been working on collaborative efforts with industry, schools and government directly related to the Industry 4.0 concept, which is founded upon innovation and entrepreneurship and related skill sets in the realm of workforce development.

“The new industrial age is already changing jobs, career paths and working environments,” said Snider. “Graduates will have to possess additional knowledge bases and skill sets to succeed in the future. Our graduates will constantly be adapting to new positions in new companies requiring new skills. Industry 4.0 is also increasing the rate and frequency in which these changes will occur.” 

Citing the World Economic Forum’s “disruption index,” Snider stresses how technology will continue to change workforce development and jobs overall.

“From social work to medicine, education to small businesses, and a lot in between, our graduates will have incredible tools to apply in their work that they have to know about,” said Snider. “We have already heard that there is a need across disciplines for people who can analyze big data sets, but they also have to know about how artificial intelligence, robotics and the internet of things are connected and part of a larger system.”

While some may assume or believe that these concepts only relate to certain fields such as engineering and technology, Snider stresses that they will affect all fields. 

“We already have the key ingredients found in liberal arts such as critical-thinking, problem-solving, communications and social awareness,” said Snider. “We will need to help students learn to apply these skills in the changing environment that is being hastened by technology and innovation. That is why understanding and learning about the innovative mindset, as we have defined it, is so important.”

To garner input from the campus community on these concepts, Snider didn’t want to do a survey or host a discussion meeting. Knowing that innovative thinking breeds innovation, a hackathon-style event was created so that faculty and staff could put their own innovative mindsets to work.

The inaugural “Corner CON” held on Feb. 21 and 23 was a conference to prepare for future success at the New Kensington campus through inclusive collaboration and ideation. The sessions brought together members of the campus community at The Corner, the campus’ entrepreneurial center and one of 21 Penn State innovation hubs throughout the Commonwealth.

Facilitated by Babs Carryer, educator, entrepreneur, writer and consultant, along with Stephen Leonard, senior innovation lead at Arconic, “Corner CON” featured brief ideation and brainstorming sessions related to innovation and entrepreneurship, connecting the campus to The Corner and fostering a culture of innovation for the students and campus community.

“The first day was very good, but the second day was incredible,” said Snider. “At the end of the sessions, faculty were talking and engaging and excited about the possibilities they saw for increasing opportunities for students. Faculty were talking to each other on how they could collaborate across disciplines. Staff and faculty were discussing how various functions across the campus contribute to student success. At the end of the second day it was clear we have a core of folks who are motivated and excited about moving our campus forward and doing it in a way that fosters innovation.”  

Snider continued, “I wanted them to understand Industry 4.0 and the impact this may have on all of us, but particularly on the skills our students will need to be successful in an era when change to their jobs and society will be fast and far-reaching. We had a few who were a bit skeptical, and they asked some great questions that helped refine our thinking. Everyone there had the interests of our students at heart. Knowing that we need to think a bit differently to be able to further student interests and begin working on how was what I hoped we would get from the event, and we did.” 

In addition to laying the groundwork for planning and creating campus Innovation Action Teams, the event highlighted the asset the campus has in The Corner, which was part of the first round of seed grant recipients through the Invent Penn State initiative.

“The Corner has emerged as a pivotal player in this effort,” said Snider. “It is our connection to the innovative environment and those already in it. We will be able to connect students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the community, to opportunities in innovation. The entrepreneurial training we will be able to offer all campus and community members will give everyone who wants it an opportunity to take an idea and move it through the process of becoming a business or product. While most will fail, those who tried and learned will gain invaluable experience, knowledge and skill sets that will prepare them for the workforce of tomorrow.”

It’s the skills taught and learned through innovation and entrepreneurship by the campus that Snider hopes students will benefit from.

“Some think that the innovative mindset is just about creating entrepreneurs,” Snider said. "No, it is about creating graduates who will be able to find good jobs and adapt across their career because they possess the skills needed for the next era.”