Innovation is in our DNA

University of New Haven President Steve Kaplan wrote about innovation and its impact on students as part of a special feature for Forbes.

February 12, 2017

By Office of Marketing & Communications

Students at the University of New Haven
By Steven Kaplan , President of the University of New Haven

A few years ago, I was in a meeting with students, getting their feedback on what the University should invest in to further enhance their educational experience. I expected that the students would discuss the need for new science facilities.

A mechanical engineering student who had just returned from an immersion program at Stanford that examined innovation and entrepreneurship stood up first. He said that the University needed a makerspace – a community space that brings people together to tinker and create. A little later in the meeting, a marine biology student said the same thing. The last student to speak, an engineering major, had, I learned, just come back from visiting her friend at MIT, where she visited its makerspace. She also said that we needed our own makerspace.

This enthusiasm, I soon found out, was just the tip of the iceberg. So we decided to shift our focus to developing a more interdisciplinary space aimed at fostering creativity, ingenuity and innovation. The more we probed, the more we found that this was an idea that resonated with students across the University.

New Innovation Center

Today, the development of our envisioned Innovation Center is the centerpiece of our Charger Challenge, the University’s first comprehensive campaign that endeavors to raise $100 million in time for the University’s centennial in 2020.

I believe that this new 40,000-square-foot facility will be a vibrant hub on campus for students to come together across disciplines to develop products and ideas. It is designed for students to pursue new interests and to deepen their many passions.

I’ve been in the makerspace at Yale, and it is a really wild grouping of spaces. In fact, the majority of the users at Yale are non-engineers and are students who are developing products and projects not necessarily related to their classes. They are inspired, perhaps, by their classes but are not necessarily doing class work.

It is amazing to go through these spaces and to see what’s happening. It really makes me want to go back to school.


This focus on innovation is hardly a new one for the University of New Haven.

We were founded in 1920 on the Yale campus to meet the engineering and business needs of the region. We were always focused on economic development and on generating new products and new ideas in an area of the country that – back then – was heavily engaged in engineering and manufacturing. There’s been a long history of entrepreneurship at the University of New Haven, and innovation is in our DNA.

Five years ago, the University was selected to join the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network, which features some of the best engineering schools in the country. The Kern Family Foundation has committed nearly $1 million to support the ongoing development of 20 academic modules that have been incorporated across the curriculum to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in our students.

I truly believe that entrepreneurship is the secret sauce of this country’s greatness. Going back to people like Edison and Ford – and straight through to Steve Jobs – it wasn’t about the product, it was about the application of a new idea and striving to be innovative.

Applying this educational approach at the University of New Haven has resulted in the development of cutting-edge concepts and groundbreaking ideas. For example, engineering majors in the Class of 2016 created, among other inventions, an automated firefighting robot, a remotely operated underwater vehicle used to collect samples in Long Island Sound and a pioneering approach to converting biomass to fuel to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.

This creativity and ingenuity is being noticed by leading companies, such as Sikorsky, where more University of New Haven graduates are hired than from any other college.

This is a very savvy generation of students, and it gives me great hope to see the passion that they have for innovation. The possibilities for what they will create and discover are truly limitless.


Karen Grava, Director of Media Relaions