January 14, 2020

13 minutes MINUTES

Interim Provost Salma Ghanem on Encouraging, Funding and Celebrating Innovation

DePaul continuously looks for ways to evolve and offer students the best curriculum, campus life, technology and facilities. And results of the collective efforts are clear: U.S. News & World Report named DePaul one of the country’s “most innovative schools” in its 2020 Best Colleges rankings. As the university prepares to host the first annual DePaul Innovation Day for faculty and staff on Jan. 24, Interim Provost Salma Ghanem discusses how DePaul encourages innovation and the wide range of projects funded under the Academic Growth and Innovation Fund Program.



LINDA BLAKLEY: Welcome to DePaul Download. I’m your host, Linda Blakley, vice president of University Marketing and Communications.

Innovation is a popular buzzword these days, and not only in the technology and business fields. Universities continuously look for ways to evolve to offer students the best curriculum, campus life, technology, and facilities. At DePaul, innovation takes many forms, including, for instance, the two new makerspaces that are now on both campuses and new programs that leverage our connection to Chicago. And the results are clear. U.S. News and World Report named DePaul one of the country’s most innovative schools in its 2020 Best Colleges rankings.

Interim Provost Salma Ghanem joins me in conversation about how DePaul is making sure it’s walking the walk and not just talking the talk when it comes to innovation. Salma, thank you for being here.

SALMA GHANEM: Thank you for inviting me, Linda.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Being a champion for faculty innovation has been a hallmark of your time first as acting and now interim provost at DePaul. Why has this been important to you?

SALMA GHANEM: Innovation has been always important to me. Innovation was important to me when I was a faculty member as well as when I moved into administration. So, for example, when I was dean of the College of Communication here at DePaul, I started a faculty innovation fund. The whole idea behind that is a lot of times faculty will come to you with fantastic ideas that might need a little bit of financial support to get the idea started. That’s where my love comes in is the whole idea of how can I get those ideas to fruition. I did that in the college. And then moving into the role of acting and then interim provost, I do believe that that’s something we should continue to do. One of the things I like to say is that at the university, our main asset is our people, and that’s where we get all of our ideas from, and I see my job as one to facilitate and champion the implementation of those ideas.

LINDA BLAKLEY: So we’ve expanded that idea. Can you tell me more about DePaul’s Academic Growth and Innovation Fund? How did it come together?

SALMA GHANEM: Well, I wish I could take credit for it, but I can’t. It really started two years ago under the leadership of Marten denBoer, our former provost, and our executive vice president, Jeff Bethke. They both came up with this idea of developing this fund. It’s an endowed fund that allows us to have up to I think $2 million a year where we can fund ideas that come through and to provide the seed money that is needed. It is usually funded for no more than three years to make sure that the idea is viable. And then if it is successful, we can take it from there. But, again, this is one of the ways to encourage people to come forth with their ideas.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Change doesn’t always happen quickly at universities, but the academic growth and innovation fund is designed then to nurture projects that could have an impact, like you said, within three years. The fund is open to a wide range of projects then. Can you share one or two of these exciting initiatives with us?

SALMA GHANEM: Absolutely. Yes, we funded 15 projects, but we had over 50-some projects that were submitted. Even though we were only able to fund 15 of those projects, I would like to mention that some of those projects, the colleges found a way to fund them internally. They weren’t just ideas that we couldn’t move along with them. We found other ways of doing that. The 15 that we funded ranged. And when I look at innovation, I want to remind people innovation is not only about technology. Innovation is just developing a different kind of solution or a new solution to a problem. These projects ranged from recruitment videos for certain colleges to the development of e-supports on campus. They included everything from how to increase our outreach to the diverse communities here in Chicago. There were high school outreach programs. There were high production value online programs. So if you really think about it, it had to do with how to teach a class, how to retain students, and how to recruit students. All of the projects in one way or the other were focused on students to make the experience at DePaul an even better experience.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Innovation Day—the he first DePaul Innovation Day—is approaching. Tell us about this event.

SALMA GHANEM: Let me reiterate. DePaul has always been a very innovative university, and it’s been ranked as such. This first Innovation Day is going to take place on Jan. 24, 2020. It is really just a way of formalizing all the innovation that is happening at DePaul, but also celebrating the innovation. We are going to be featuring some of the AGIF, the Academic Growth and Initiative Funds, projects, but we are also going to have a panel discussing the various ways that people can approach innovation. It is a way to encourage others to come forward with their ideas.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Definitely in the category of walking the walk. DePaul isn’t a Research 1 institution, but plenty of research is happening here. In fact, two of our professors were recently awarded a $6.6 million grant to study youth violence. What do you tell faculty about the role of research at DePaul?

SALMA GHANEM: Thank you for asking that question, Linda. It’s really interesting. I see innovation and research as truly linked. The vice provost for research, Daniela Raicu, is really the one who has been in charge of developing this Innovation Day, which is interesting because her focus is on research, but innovation and research are linked. One of the things that I would say about DePaul is a lot of research happens here, but because we’re not labeled and we do not promote ourselves as a Research 1 institution, we don’t tend to talk about the research that’s happening here. But I do believe that there are many pockets here at the university where we produce research, where faculty and students work on research that is on par with the research produced at R-1 universities. So research is an extremely important component in I believe with this Innovation Day. And then we’re going to be having a research fest I think sometime in March. They’re really linked because there is teaching and research are not two separate components but they are really intertwined.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Innovation, as you said, is often associated with the fields that involve technology, science, or entrepreneurship, but we don’t want to leave out the liberal arts. How can an area like the liberal arts innovate?

SALMA GHANEM: I think linking innovation just with technology is a very narrow way of looking at innovation. Innovation, as I mentioned earlier, has to do with how do you develop solutions for the pressing problems that we’re dealing with. It could be a problem that we’re dealing with in the classroom. It could be a societal problem. I think a great example of innovation that has taken place in the College of Liberal Arts (and Social Sciences) has been the establishment of The Grace School of Applied Diplomacy. What it has really done is embraced all the skills that we teach our students in the liberal arts and how they can repackage it to influence and create social change. So I think that school, not only the creation of the school was innovative, but to look at what we provide to the students and put it in an innovative way. So I think that is a great example of the kind of innovation that takes place. I am constantly amazed by the innovative way our faculty and our students and our staff come together to address issues.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Innovation is a grace at the end of the day.

SALMA GHANEM: Yeah. Absolutely. Sometimes innovation just becomes a buzzword, but I would say that at DePaul, it is part of the fabric of our institution.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Before you stepped into this role, you were DePaul’s dean of the College of Communication. Has your expanded role changed your view of the university?

SALMA GHANEM: It actually reaffirmed my view of the university. When I first came to DePaul, I was truly impressed by the kind of work that was done in the College of Communication. When moving into this role, it was very gratifying to see that that type of work permeates every aspect of the university. While the role has its challenges, while the role requires longer hours in the office, I would say that it has been wonderful to be able to see the kind of work that happens across the university.

LINDA BLAKLEY: As provost, how do you personally embrace innovation?

SALMA GHANEM: That’s an interesting question. I love new ideas. I love curiosity. I like looking at things and turning them upside down and looking at it in a different angle. That’s the way I always approach my life. It doesn’t mean that I believe going in and just changing something for the sake of changing it. There’s a lot of good work that is there, but maybe tweaking it, improving it. But I think innovation is the willingness to take risk. And I think people need to understand that when we celebrate innovation, we are going to be celebrating both successes and failures, but I believe the celebration should be in the willingness to take that risk to begin with.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Salma, thank you for this conversation. I can’t wait to see more results of the initiatives you’ve shared with us today.

SALMA GHANEM: Thank you, Linda. It’s a pleasure being here.

LINDA BLAKLEY: I’m Linda Blakley. Thank you for listening to this episode of DePaul Download presented by DePaul’s Division of University Marketing and Communications. If you have any feedback for us, please send us a note at depauldownload@depaul.edu. We’d love to hear from you.