Faculty and staff use innovative mindset and skills to plan for future

First 'Corner CON' brings innovation and entrepreneurship to forefront at New Kensington

Penn State New Kensington Chancellor Kevin Snider presents the vision for Corner CON 2018. The event aimed to create and build awareness of innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E), engage participants through collaborative ideation and begin to articulate action steps the campus will take to integrate I&E on and off campus so that students are prepared with skills necessary for the jobs and opportunities of the future. Corner CON was held at The Corner, the campus' entrepreneurial center. Credit: Corinne Coulson / Penn StateCreative Commons

NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — With the December 2017 opening of The Corner entrepreneurial center in downtown New Kensington, Penn State New Kensington has already seen how entrepreneurship and innovation can spark positivity and harness energy for the community. The campus, under the lead of Chancellor Kevin Snider, is now committed to spreading that spark even farther.

To explore how innovation and entrepreneurship can benefit not just the community, but also the campus’ current students and future students and stakeholders, Snider wanted to gather the input of faculty and staff.

“This world of innovation has developed tremendous opportunities for learning, teaching and discovery,” said Snider. “It has also alerted us to the fact that the skill sets that our students will need to thrive in the near future and over the course of their careers are changing. We needed to get the perspective of our faculty and staff on how we can use The Corner, which is our door to innovation, to get into this world in a big way. We also wanted to hear what they are feeling and seeing and thinking about in terms of innovation and how we can make this a larger part of our culture.”

Snider has been working on collaborative efforts with industry, schools and government directly related to the Industry 4.0 concept, which is founded upon innovation and entrepreneurship and related skill sets in the realm of workforce development.

“The new industrial age is already changing jobs, career paths and working environments,” said Snider. “Graduates will have to possess additional knowledge bases and skill sets to succeed in the future. Our graduates will constantly be adapting to new positions in new companies requiring new skills. Industry 4.0 is also increasing the rate and frequency in which these changes will occur.” 

Citing the World Economic Forum’s “disruption index,” Snider stresses how technology will continue to change workforce development and jobs overall.

“From social work to medicine, education to small businesses, and a lot in between, our graduates will have incredible tools to apply in their work that they have to know about,” said Snider. “We have already heard that there is a need across disciplines for people who can analyze big data sets, but they also have to know about how artificial intelligence, robotics and the internet of things are connected and part of a larger system.”

While some may assume or believe that these concepts only relate to certain fields such as engineering and technology, Snider stresses that they will affect all fields. 

“We already have the key ingredients found in liberal arts such as critical-thinking, problem-solving, communications and social awareness,” said Snider. “We will need to help students learn to apply these skills in the changing environment that is being hastened by technology and innovation. That is why understanding and learning about the innovative mindset, as we have defined it, is so important.”

To garner input from the campus community on these concepts, Snider didn’t want to do a survey or host a discussion meeting. Knowing that innovative thinking breeds innovation, a hackathon-style event was created so that faculty and staff could put their own innovative mindsets to work.

The inaugural “Corner CON” held on Feb. 21 and 23 was a conference to prepare for future success at the New Kensington campus through inclusive collaboration and ideation. The sessions brought together members of the campus community at The Corner, the campus’ entrepreneurial center and one of 21 Penn State innovation hubs throughout the Commonwealth.