Texas A&M President Michael K. Young said the university is putting its students at the center of its commercialization efforts with the creation of its new School of Innovation.
Officially debuted during Young's State of the University address late last month, the School of Innovation -- or I-School -- is designed to serve as an environment where students from across a variety of disciplines have the opportunity to work together as they lead problem-solving initiatives.
The I-School will be led by Andrew Morriss -- who previously served as dean of the Texas A&M School of Law -- in the role of dean and vice president for economic development.
Morriss said with such a "unique opportunity" in the I-School, he is excited to be a part of the upcoming multi-disciplinary, student-led work.
"I think that the most important thing is to be a force multiplier for the things that are already going on," Morriss said. "… [President Young] talks about unleashing our students on the world's problems. That's the exciting part. We have 68,000 creative individuals in the student body; we just have to turn them loose on solving problems."
Part of what Morriss said he believes will help fuel the new initiative is not only the support and resources of the university but the interests of the students themselves as well.
"When I went to college, we thought, 'I want to go be an economics major, or I want to go be a civil engineer,'" he said. "Now [students] say, 'I want to go work on water, or I want to work on health.' Students today have this expectation, they want to work on a problem."
Morriss said he hopes that the I-School can create a place of "intellectual connections" where students from across the university can meet and collaborate with others -- regardless of their respective fields of study -- who share a common interest in addressing a specific problem or idea.
"If we find a way to do that for A&M, I think the burst of creativity and innovation out of the students will just amaze everybody," Morriss said.
Young, who said he has worked to implement variations on this idea throughout his career in academia, said his primary focus with the I-School is ensuring that students are the heart of the program.
"One of the mistakes I think a lot of universities make is that they somehow think that commercialization is something that goes on over here, the faculty does it, the university makes a lot of money and everybody's happy," Young said.
Young pointed to his experience as president of the University of Utah as an example of his approach to commercialization.
"We created entrepreneurial programs more than commercialization activities," he said. "Despite having a fraction of the research funding that A&M has, for example, the University of Utah still leads the nation in the number of companies spun out. I think the reason for that is the students are at the absolute center of it."
Morriss praised Young's experience and leadership in this new initiative as one of the reasons he is confident the program will be successful.
"I think him having that experience is giving us a real leg up in coming up with the A&M version of [the school]," Morriss said. "… I think the exciting thing about this is, this is a big chance to do at a larger scale what some other schools are doing on a much smaller scale."
In addition to providing a platform for students, Young said he also hopes to see the school as a laboratory of sorts where the university can study the act of innovation itself.
"We somehow think it's kind of in your DNA somehow, you're born an innovator or you're not," Young said. "I don't think that's true. I think as we make it a much more intentional part of what we're doing, I think we're going to learn some really powerful principles where we'll be able to help people -- whether they go into business or into government -- to be able to think in this way."
Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture of the university, Young said the over-arching goal of initiatives like the I-School is to update the way in which students are prepared to enter the real world -- all while maintaining the values that have long made Texas A&M special.
He said his "fundamental aspiration" is to ensure future Aggies will be prepared to serve as leaders over the next 140 years, just as it has since its founding.
"How we prepare and help them changes, but the heart and soul and the core [of the university] doesn't change," Young said. "The values don't change, but the technical training and learning they need, that does. That's what we're really trying to do."
Additionally, Young said he also wants to see the university play a leading role in addressing the challenges faced by the world today by equipping its students with the most complete education possible.
"We want to be on the cutting edge of addressing those as we have been for decades and nearly a century and a half in the past," Young said. "… It's a really positive time for the university."