Taking it to the Max

Innovation is a buzz word right now in higher education, but I am proud to say it is much more than that at University of St. Thomas. Innovation is increasingly a part of our culture. Across this campus, and now beyond, new ideas are being born and colliding, creating chain reactions that change lives and help UST make headlines.

St. Maximillian Kolbe

St. Maximillian Kolbe

History shows us we shouldn’t be surprised by the recent promise and advances of our fellow Celts. Catholics have a long and glorious tradition of leveraging human ingenuity and technology to accomplish the unimaginable. After all, that heritage created the field of science and gave us the big bang theory.

St. Maximillian Kolbe, often referred to as the patron saint of innovation, is a prime example of Catholics leading the way. In early 20th century Poland, St. Maximillian Kolbe used radio to build the largest Catholic media apostolate in the world, with the limited resources available to him at the time. Although it was a spectacular accomplishment, it was only one of the many things spanning the globe that he would be remembered for. Years later, he traded his own life to spare the life of another in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

St. Maximillian Kolbe’s great impact and authentic love serve as inspiration for our future success here at UST in the form of a virtual innovation space we refer to as “The MAX,” where human dignity forms the heart of innovation. For now, The MAX is a concept finding its shape, a place where ideas for UST’s future either take flight or fail spectacularly. Both results are always welcome, because if we are not occasionally failing, then we are not pushing our ingenuity hard enough. We also know that new ideas frequently require a different way of thinking, so The MAX is a place where rules and policies are different too, sometimes even suspended to ignite imagination and make room for healthy incubation.

Over the last several months, The MAX has been finding its beginnings in the form of an organically grown innovation project known as Celt’IC (Celtic), Celt Innovation Competition. Initially conceived by a UST faculty member, Celt’IC recently challenged both faculty and staff to dream and propose new programs, of which one or more will receive University funding. The process is swift and the implementation timeline will be aggressive. Dreams are great, but without action you’re still asleep. Community brainstorms designed to offer a sounding board for proposals still in their infancy have been a tremendous success.

Another concrete example of UST actively engaging in the innovation space is the Academic Partnership, our collaboration with Rice University and other universities across Houston to shape our city’s new Innovation Hub. Slated to begin construction soon, The Innovation Hub is a reimagining of the old Sears building just blocks away from UST on Richmond Avenue, and we will have space available to our faculty and staff for research and teaching. The project, one of many innovation initiatives carried out in close cooperation with Mayor Sylvester Turner, will be transformative for the neighborhood and the city as a whole.

With all of this innovation going on, it is my belief and hope that The MAX will soon find a path beyond the virtual world into a brick and mortar existence too. In however many realities it takes shape, I am confident the collective ingenuity of our faculty, staff, alumni and friends will lead University of St. Thomas into a future worthy of our tradition, yet unimaginable to those who gave it to us.

About the Author — Richard Ludwick

Richard L. Ludwick became the 9th president of the University of St. Thomas on July 1, 2017. He previously served as president of the Independent Colleges of Indiana, the nation’s oldest association of 31 private, nonprofit colleges and universities enrolling more than 100,000 students. In that capacity, he led strategic initiatives in public policy at the state and federal levels, spurred innovative, intercollegiate collaborations, and successfully executed multi-million dollar philanthropic campaigns.

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