Innovation, says Chaminade’s Dr. Helen Turner, isn’t just about good ideas.
It’s about taking good ideas — fostering them in their infancy — and operationalizing them, systemizing them, deploying them as groundbreaking programs, improvements-oriented processes, forward-looking strategies, hallmark initiatives. Put simply, she says, innovating is about turning good ideas into positive action.
Turner would know.
Just about a year ago, the internationally-regarded cellular immunology researcher was tapped to serve as Chaminade’s first ever vice president of innovation, heading up a small team whose aim is to help professors, administrators and staff members across the university turn great ideas into innovation that can make a difference.
And she’s already celebrating some successes: With federal funding, the office is helping to develop a new data science program that stresses a values-based curriculum and community impact; they’ve teamed up with the School of Business and Communication to tackle a slate of new initiatives, including one focused on how to help teach business for an island setting; and Turner and her colleagues are building a suite of new summer development institutes.
Perhaps the biggest effort Turner has undertaken, though, is helping move Chaminade in a “pro-innovation direction.”
“The creativity and the talent have never been missing at Chaminade,” Turner said, in a recent interview with Chaminade Quarterly. “What’s been missing is that ability to capitalize on it. The overarching goal is to really create a culture of innovation at Chaminade. The main focus areas — the three Rs — are to build our reputation, build our relevance in the community and build our revenue so that we’re best positioned to deliver on the mission.”
Indeed, Turner sees her role — and the roles of her team members — as facilitators, conveners, brokers.
They’re not there to tell people what to do. They’re there to start conversations, to bring in key stakeholders, to imagine possibilities, to ensure program goals are aligned with university and market needs. “We set up the office to act as an in-house incubator for our talent,” she said. “A place where we build partnerships so that the community sees our value and then helps us build our value. It is about collaboration and partnership, both internal and external.”
A ‘community first’ university
Adaptability is something of a buzzword at college campuses across the country and the world these days — and there’s little wonder why. Technological advancements have impacted the way we work, the way we live and the way we learn. And all those changes — coming at the speed of light — have meant institutions of higher learning are trying to figure out how to prepare students for the careers of tomorrow (some of which might not yet exist).
It is with that backdrop that Chaminade’s Office of Innovation is working.
As Chaminade’s president, Dr. Lynn Babington, has said: Chaminade must not only pursue and reward academic excellence. It must be relevant. It must be innovative. And it must contribute to the betterment of society — a “higher education with a higher purpose.” In short, Chaminade must prepare students for an ever-changing world, course redirecting along the way to ensure it’s meeting its mission to make the world a more just, peaceful place.
Turner doesn’t take this directive lightly.
She’s looking to other universities for inspiration. And she’s looking within.
“My talent is to operationalize things — going from great ideas to actually getting a partnership in place to do something has been really important to me,” she said. Innovation, Turner adds, “can’t be simply about generating energy and a good idea. It has to be about bringing them to reality and to fruition — helping incubate these ideas.”
Turner joined Chaminade in 2007 from The Queen’s Center for Biomedical Research. She earned her Ph.D. in immunology from the University of London, and conducted post-doctoral studies at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School before coming to the islands. In her Chaminade lab, Turner took on research that the scientific layperson would struggle to understand, co-authoring a long list of journal articles along the way.
But Turner also set her sights more broadly — toward institutional innovation.
Last year, she received a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to help fund efforts at Chaminade to broaden culturally-based science, technology, engineering and mathematics education for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students. In 2016, she helped develop the $9.6 million Ho’oulu STEM Scholarship program with Kamehameha Schools, a full-tuition scholarship geared toward Hawaiian students at Chaminade.
“The program removes financial and non-financial barriers to Native Hawaiian success in STEM, and in parallel reflects our faculty’s commitment to curriculum and pedagogy that bridge science and root culture,” Turner said, at the launch of the scholarship program. “Solutions to health, environmental and justice challenges are to be found in science and technology, and we envision Ho’oulu students leading the community in the future.”
After accepting the appointment as vice president of the Office of Innovation — a position she took on in addition to her role as dean of the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics dean — Turner says she spent a good amount of time laying the groundwork for innovation at Chaminade. One of her greatest challenges and opportunities, she says, has been helping to define what innovation means for Chaminade and for its community “in this time and place.”
“I think we are a community first university,” Turner said. “If we behave in an innovative way, we bring more programs, more opportunities to students from Hawaii and the Pacific. What we’re ultimately doing is increasing our potential for community impact and increasing our potential for responding to the needs of the community.”
‘An act of strategy’
To strategically design innovation for Chaminade, Turner started talking to people.
She talked to professors. To staff members. To community stakeholders. To educators.
She talked to people about what innovation looks like. She talked about what Chaminade needed to provide. She talked about what needed to change at the institution to make innovation easier — from fiscal policies to approvals.Along the way, her office started building transformative practices, identifying and celebrating innovators, seeking broad feedback on where innovation resources needed to be focused and soliciting great ideas that could be nurtured — incubated — into new programs. Programs that could meet a need, serve the community, solve a problem.
“Universities, by definition, are incredibly creative, incredibly innovative places. And we’re no different,” Turner said. “There’s a tremendous amount of innovation and talent on this campus. Converting that to real gains in terms of reputation, relevance and revenue — that’s why you need a dedicated office and a dedicated person.”
In its first year, the office has helped launch a new Master of Business Administration with a concentration on the science and tech sectors, assisted with the development of the “4+1 program,” in which students can earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education in five years, and pushed forward efforts to create new professional certificates.
Behind each of these efforts, Turner said, are internal and external stakeholders who are making sure innovation efforts are relevant to students, to the community and to employers. “New lines of business, new degree programs should relate to the mission and strengthen our position in the market,” Turner said. “We’re really trying to build an end-to-end solution. When we add a new program, it’s not an act of faith. It’s an act of strategy.”
Innovation for everyone
Big ideas are welcome at Chaminade’s Office of Innovation. But small ideas are welcome, too.
Turner has stressed that since she took on her new role. Innovations, she says, come in all shapes and sizes.
She’s sought to back up that mantra by seeking extramural development funds, which can help faculty or staff members build a program out with the mission in mind, and not simply based on its return on investment. Turner has also established an annual “innovation cycle,” aimed at making innovation part of the university’s DNA. During the period, a survey is distributed to identify and celebrate university innovators — and to get ideas for new initiatives.
Babington said she created the Office of Innovation — and appointed Turner — because she wanted to make innovation at Chaminade deliberate, mission-oriented and strategic. The new role (and the new office), she said, “reflects Chaminade’s growth trajectory and commitment to providing cutting-edge academic and research programs that benefit our students, faculty and all the populations we serve.” The appointment, she added, supports Hawaii’s critically important transition to an “innovation economy” — nimble, forward-looking, community-driven.
Innovation at Chaminade, Babington said, means being responsive to the needs of the workforce. It means strengthening partnership with community stakeholders to build programs that meet market — and mission — needs.
“Focusing on innovation is our future in Hawaii,” Babington told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in January, in explaining her decision to appoint Turner as vice president of innovation. Babington added, “We need to diversify our workforce and Chaminade is actively working to answer that need.”
One big way Turner and her team — grant writer Lynn Haff and senior adviser Dr. Scott Schroeder, dean of the School of Business and Communication — are doing that is by developing workforce development programs for busy professionals. The programs are being geared toward upskilling, and most would feature intensive, noncredit courses.
“We’re really thinking about bringing education to the market in the way that the market wants it,” Turner said.
Another big effort underway: Turner wants to bolster all sorts of opportunities for innovation at Chaminade. The questions before her: How can Chaminade create physical or virtual spaces for student innovation on campus? And what can the university do to develop a culture in which more faculty can participate in innovative initiatives?
Every step of the way, Turner says, she’s mindful that all of her work should integrate Chaminade’s values.
“Universities that punch above their weight, you see education offered across a lot of different modalities, new and innovative programs. You see a lot of programs based around, What is the fundamental mission of that university?” she said. “That is the value proposition” in Chaminade’s innovations — “the integration of values and ethics in innovative programs that support a bright future for our students, our community and our state..”
Innovation, says Chaminade’s Dr. Helen Turner, isn’t just about good ideas.