Universities serve the larger society by the formation of their students through the talents of faculty, who themselves are constantly contributing to the advancement of human understanding. Through these two functions, universities seek to serve the common good of the full population.
The challenge to all universities is to use approaches to this mission that are effective for the current world, one in which new solutions to old problems are being discovered daily.
Many of these solutions require a new way of thinking as well as using new tools – technology, data-driven adaptation, and novel resource generation. We see these new approaches come to life everyday, from innovative start-ups to established organizations, that harness real-time information to offer leaps in the efficiencies of service delivery. These approaches are fundamental to the success of ecommerce, the “gig” economy, the “sharing” society, and so on. It is also true in the innovation that is occurring in educational activities, from the integration of textbooks with online resources, to adaptive and personalized learning systems, to experiential learning activities. It is true in the “maker spaces” that spring up on university campuses, where 3D printing and laser-powered devices permit the creation of objects that are limited only by one’s imagination. Finally, this way of thinking powers the work of a new breed of social justice leaders, who create and run organizations to improve the quality of life of a population, but who also believe in sustainable revenue streams to achieve those common good ends.
Such ways of thinking are already present at Georgetown, in StartUpHoyas for private sector startups, in the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation for the social good entities, in the Red House activities of Designing the Future(s) of Georgetown for educational innovation, and in the multiple maker spaces across campus for the creation of things.
All these activities are exhibiting strong demand from both undergraduate and graduate students. Indeed, the demand exceeds the capacities of the units. We think we need to do more. So we held a hackathon Saturday organized by the above entities to seek student input.
The students were a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, from all the schools of the main campus. They were filled with ideas about how Georgetown could do better in this domain. They envision both a space on the Hilltop and a space in the community (where they could interact with external collaborators). They imagine coworking spaces, an event venue, and central services to help them more creatively solve problems. They are open to research and development, but they are most interested in their efforts leading to real action, real problem-solving. They envision a blend of credit-bearing and non-credit-bearing courses; they want to learn both soft skills (e.g., creative thinking) and hard skills (e.g., data visualization). They want an environment that is open to diverse skills and backgrounds; they want to work in interdisciplinary teams. They believe that problem-solving for the social good should be at the core, a particular strength of Georgetown.
The students were wonderfully giving of their time. Their input will propel us forward, now more certain that we could build a better Georgetown if we act on these opportunities.