Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Postsecondary Success

February 18, 2021

Postsecondary Success Notes | Redefining ‘innovation’ to meet this moment


As we observe Black History Month, I’ve been discussing with my family examples of Black excellence found in each of our respective birthplaces. Leaders like Barbara Jordan from my native Houston, John Lewis for my elder daughter born in Atlanta, and open housing activists like Vivian Caver in my younger daughter’s Seattle birthplace.  These visionaries share a mastery of words to inspire and drive action.

And it got me to thinking…how do we in higher education use words to stir action on behalf of our students? And can we redefine some of those words to meet this moment?

For me, one of those words is “innovation.” I believe we’ve viewed innovation a little too narrowly, making it synonymous with new technologies. New tools are critical, but innovation is so much more than that. It is:

  • People-driven. The work of our student advising partners such as NASPA shows that new approaches to serving students are just as important as new apps and platforms.
  • Inclusive. Our experience with digital learning tools shows that the best innovation is done with faculty and students, not to them. These efforts also put equity at the center.
  • Asset-based. We can – and must – use innovation to create opportunities, not just “fix things.”
  • Provocative. This includes questioning higher education’s prestige-driven incentive system as well as long-standing policies and practices such as remedial education.

Keep reading for more about innovative thinking and action. And I encourage you to think of more words that can be redefined to drive the change we seek for today’s students.

Patrick Methvin