In the fall of 2010, York’s Vice-President Academic & Provost Patrick Monahan announced the establishment of the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) to provide an investment of $2.5 million in support of innovation and change at the University. Applications were invited for funding to support new initiatives advancing York’s strategic priorities. Of the applications received, 39 projects, led by faculty, staff and students, were awarded funding.
Over the course of the next year, YFile will be profiling the projects through videos and stories. Today, the camera’s spotlight is on Monahan and the story of his inspiration for AIF.
Patrick Monahan grins when he recalls his “Aha!” moment, which led to the creation of the Academic Innovation Fund.
Several years ago, York’s vice-president academic & provost had just completed a series of consultations with York community members regarding the White Paper, a document that would outline the future academic priorities of the University. What he discovered during that process energized him.
“As we went through the White Paper a couple of years ago, what impressed me were the people who participated in that process,” he said. “We sat in focus groups and we talked about our ideas, dreams and aspirations for the University. What was so striking was that people had so many great ideas – there were literally hundreds!”
He discovered the main obstacle preventing these ideas from becoming a reality centred on the lack of resources. Monahan had heard of projects in the United States that provided seed funding for academic initiatives. He thought the idea had merit and turned to his colleagues in the Provost’s Office to see if they could find funding that could be used to create a made-in-York solution to turn the ideas into working projects.
His inspiration led to the formation of the Academic Innovation Fund of $2.5 million that would provide an initial investment of resources to bring projects from the drawing board to reality. In the fall of 2010, applications were invited from the University community for funding (up to $200,000 each) to support new initiatives advancing York’s strategic priorities in relation to teaching and learning and the student experience.
The response, he discovered, was nothing short of amazing. “It was just fantastic because of the tremendous energy and participation,” he said. “The committee was only able to fund 39 of those projects, but all the project submissions were very interesting and innovative, and showed a real commitment to the University and to our students.”
The 39 projects funded include clusters of initiatives that support e-learning, experiential education and the student experience. From a project to enhance how first-year students move from high school to university, to a student-run sustainable business initiative, each of the AIF projects is as diverse as the University community. There is a project to create an online enrolment system for new students, a mentorship program for varsity athletes, a partnership between two faculties to develop a blended learning initiative, a community centred action plan for experiential education, and a project to bring public history into the classroom, to name just a few.
All of the projects, said Monahan, reflect York’s DNA. “Each of the projects is about engaging people in these ideas,” he said. “I hope that what this does is that it shows people what is possible and that we can build on this energy.”
Monahan said that many people have told him how excited they are to see their ideas finally becoming a reality. “What I find so interesting is that there are ideas that would never have occurred to someone sitting in an office here in the York Research Tower or even in a dean’s office,” he said. “Ideas like a project that we have with refugees in Thailand connecting them with researchers and students here in Toronto or a project to teach area youth how to swim.”
The AIF projects provide a concrete example of the potential for innovation and engagement that resides in the York community. “It is an example of the idea that the collective brain is always better then a single brain. If you get one hundred people in a room and get them thinking and talking – you are going to get more ideas than with 10 people, five or one. That is what makes this a really successful initiative so far.”
By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor