Innovation at Lakehead: 3 Qs with Brian Stevenson

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In September, the 10K crew went on location to the 2017 Ontario Universities’ Fair, to interview a dozen higher ed leaders about trends in innovation.

At the time, Brian Stevenson was finishing his term as President & Vice-Chancellor at Lakehead University. (Moira McPherson replaced him as interim President in January 2018). Brian’s extensive higher ed administrative experience includes founding the Canadian Studies program at ITAM in Mexico, serving as AVP International at uAlberta, Provost at uWinnipeg, and most recently President at Lakehead (2010-17). In this special bonus episode, Ken asks Brian to answer 3 key questions about higher ed innovation.

Innovations at Lakehead?

Brian starts by describing Lakehead’s new “Student Central,” a brand-new one-stop student services office that aims to help students focus on academic studies instead of bureaucratic paperwork. He then observes that Lakehead has been a leader in Indigenous higher ed for decades, from Canada’s first Vice-Provost Aboriginal Initiatives and Truth & Reconciliation Chair, to mandatory Indigenous courses and extensive support services for Indigenous students. Lakehead’s “Achievement Program” reaches out to students starting in grade 4, bringing them to campus and setting aside scholarship funds for them. Lakehead has immersive telepresence technology connecting its two campuses in Thunder Bay and Orillia, allowing professors to co-teach students on both campuses. And Lakehead has extensive partnerships with Confederation College and Georgian College, to create seamless collaborative programs that offer students “the best of both worlds.”

The Decade Ahead?

Over the next ten years, Brian predicts that higher ed will make more effective use of technology for distance education, offer more experiential and work-integrated learning opportunities, and increasingly make use of technology and active learning pedagogies in the classroom. Key to encouraging faculty to adopt effective approaches will be the expansion of campus centres, like Lakehead’s new Teaching & Learning Commons. Universities will also work to promote entrepreneurship, not just among business students but across the campus, through programs like Lakehead’s Entrepreneurship Certificate. Brian also emphasizes that internationalization will be critical for universities, not just to recruit students and generate revenue, but more importantly to expose local students to global experience, other languages, and global citizenship.

Culture of Innovation?

Brian believes that universities are “hotbeds of innovation,” because they are not only disseminators of knowledge but also creators of knowledge, through innovative research. First and foremost, to nurture a culture of innovation, higher ed leaders need to LISTEN to students, faculty and staff across campus: ultimately the sustainable innovations won’t come from senior administration, but will arise from those working on the front lines. Leaders also need to promote strategic partnerships, with other educational institutions, the private sector, non-profits, municipalities, and international organizations and institutions. Universities are social agents for positive change, Brian says, primarily because of those external partnerships.

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