What we are learning in Pathways

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One of the projects we’re involved with at Purdue is the Pathways initiative that is part of the larger Epicenter effort. Epicenter is a five-year, NSF-funded project that’s aimed specifically at undergraduate engineering and incorporating content on innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) for those students.

Pathways engages teams of faculty and administrators from 50 institutions from all over the country. Teams are exposed to a vast range of programming options for embedding I&E into their curricular and co-curricular offerings and receive coaching and support as they design and implement new efforts. We’re helping teams use Strategic Doing as their methodology for change. The first 12 schools have been at work for two years now, with another 24 coming on last January – and this week we’re in Phoenix working with the last 14 schools (the NSF funding for Epicenter will end this June).

The results from the 36 teams already in the program have been outstanding. We can identify more than 300 different “projects” undertaken by the teams so far and are continuing to track their work over the next several months. We’re working with the staff at VentureWell (which is managing Epicenter along with Stanford University) and the project’s external evaluator to learn more about teams’ experiences, but some findings are already very clear.

One of the cornerstones of strategic doing is the idea of “linking and leveraging” assets. Those assets can take many shapes, including physical, financial, and social resources that can be accessed by the effort to create progress toward one or more strategic outcomes.

A corollary to this idea of leveraging assets is that the activities undertaken will depend almost entirely on what assets are available to the group. The schools in Pathways are an astonishingly varied lot – public & private, large & small, urban, rural & suburban, minority-serving institutions and others serving a predominately white student body. Thus, while the overall goal of Epicenter and Pathways is a unified one – increasing access to programming in innovation and entrepreneurship – the 36 schools already in the program are taking 36 different routes to get there. We expect to see the same thing with the 14 schools we’ll be working with this week.

If you’re looking at other schools for a model you can implement, think carefully. While those schools can be great sources of ideas, don’t move forward until you understand how you can link and leverage your own assets in your version of that model.

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