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5 Ways Global Universities Can Drive Innovation in Student Learning Intellectual diversity along with diversity of background and experience can lead to strong teams

By Tirupalavanam Ganesh

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Global engagement is shifting the landscape of higher education - solving the world's problems today requires international cooperation, intercultural communication, and skills that extend beyond earning a degree. Employers expect college graduates to arrive in the workforce ready to identify and create solutions at a global level.

Diversity & Inclusion

An environment that provides access to a wide range of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds among classmates, faculty and industry leaders is key to an education that prepares students to meet global challenges. Intellectual diversity along with diversity of background and experience can lead to strong teams focused on innovative solutions.

Socially and intellectually diverse groups bring unique perspectives to challenging problems and, because the group itself must learn to process unfamiliar, alternative viewpoints to arrive at a consensus, they tend to work harder and consider a broader range of solutions than their homogenous counterparts.


Launching a private venture with support from a university provides students with a range of skills that extend beyond their specific areas of study. The mindset fostered by entrepreneurship programs helps students channel their curiosity to connect ideas to new contexts and create value for society.

For example, Saiman Shetty, a controls systems engineer whose career path over the past two years has taken him from the manufacturing industry in Atlanta to Tesla then Lyft in Silicon Valley, was set on course through Hygeia, a venture launched while pursuing a master's in electrical engineering at Arizona State University.

Using market research, Shetty identified a consumer need - a more efficient and sustainable waste disposal system. With faculty and team support he put together a business plan and obtained financing, learning to navigate supply chain distribution along the way. Hygiea now has several clients and is on the brink of a major expansion.

Entrepreneurship experience at the university level creates value for graduates and their employers within the global marketplace.

Problem Solving Skills for Intrapreneurship

Competition and collaboration in an academic setting are often considered mutually exclusive. However, when employed together in the context of inventing for a social need, they drive students to search for better ways to meet the needs and wants of society.

University sponsored invent-a-thons and hackathons focused on solving global problems, especially when students work in interdisciplinary teams, provide valuable, in-the-moment collaboration skills that train participants to think beyond their individual experiences and develop new frameworks for implementation.

Likewise, small-scale competitions require students to prove or disprove there's a valid demand for a prototyped solution and facilitate the innovation process from concept to delivery. Opportunities to experience failure and then quickly recover to persist through the process are important to help students embrace the fear of failure and turn that learning into motivation.

University graduates with these experiences will make great intrapreneurs.

Collaboration with the Private Sector

Traditional industry-university co-operatives provide students with paid positions and valuable on-the-job experience while giving employers an invested, part-time work force.

But recent increases in research collaborations are adding new dimensions to partnering.

Joint initiatives in arenas like health, sustainability, cybersecurity and infrastructure are providing universities with expanded funding sources, students with hands-on research and solution-development experience, and rewards industry with cutting edge technologies. Business has access to top researchers in their fields and students have the opportunity to work with industry mentors. Both benefit from the research-to-employment pipeline.

Technology and Society: Quick Curriculum Adaptation

As the global community becomes increasingly technology-driven, the Internet of Things (IoT) surrounds our day-to-day lives. Information is both valuable and dangerous and cybersecurity efforts to keep sensitive information from getting into the wrong hands are critical. Innovation at record speeds is required to keep society and its data safe.

In order to prepare graduates who not only solve breaches and leaks, but also anticipate them before they are launched and build safeguards into those systems, universities must have the capacity to adapt curriculum on-the-fly. What worked two semesters ago will be outdated before the next round of freshmen arrive.

Today's cybersecurity professionals are not only problem solvers, they must envision potential vulnerabilities at a global scale. In today's technological world, cybersecurity affects not just our bank and credit card activities, it has a direct impact on the world's food, water and energy supply.

Global universities must embrace opportunities not only to provide students with the ability to understand and manage today's technology platforms, but also to enter the workforce with the skills to shape the world to come. By focusing students' inherent curiosity and by creating opportunities so they can make connections from foundational knowledge to new contexts, universities help graduates learn to create value for society by problem-solving at a global scale.

Tirupalavanam Ganesh

Assistant Dean, Engineering Education, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Arizona State University

Tirupalavanam Ganesh is Tooker Professor and Assistant Dean for Engineering Education at Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Ganesh’s research is in designing, implementing, and studying engineering education curricula and fostering classroom goal structures that promote mastery learning. He is engaged in system-wide change to foster students’ engineering identity. He can be reached at


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