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Be a Catalyst for Change

“Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”     –Margaret Mead (attributed)

The Innovation Studies minor combines PLU’s unique offerings in the liberal arts and the professional schools, as well as curriculum and programming offered by the Benson Chair in Business and Economic History. Innovation Studies is especially supportive of, and connected to, PLU initiatives that encourage diversity, justice, and sustainability.

What is the program?

In the business and non-profit worlds, the skills necessary for developing and implementing new ideas typically transcend the academic boundaries normally found within universities. The Innovation Studies minor’s flexible curriculum enables students to integrate their major into a rich interdisciplinary framework, and to leverage their current proficiencies while discovering new ones.

The minor hopes to achieve the following goals:

Innovation Studies values the contribution of each student and works to develop collaboration across disciplines and majors.
Build a “Start-up” Mentality in Students

  • Understand entrepreneurship in historical and ethical contexts
  • Nurture and develop original thought
  • Add value to organizations and causes
  • Forge ties between theory and practice
  • Create solutions in real-world contexts

Enrich the PLU Experience

  • Nurture interdisciplinary connections
  • Think deeply about vocation
  • Create a safe space for dreaming and collaborating
  • Build outside partnerships
  • Make a genuine contribution to the world

Bily Davis
William Davis, a co-founder of the Tacoma area innovation space FabLab. William graduated from PLU with a degree in business management and marketing in 2006, and now helps inspire artists, tinkerers and entrepreneurs.
How does it work?

Foundation courses in the program build essential skills to understand the process of innovation in historical and ethical contexts, and to learn fundamental concepts in economic theory, art & design, communication, and business management.

A concluding seminar requires that students work in teams to envision their own innovative solutions to pressing problems, strategic opportunities, and ethical concerns. Ideally, students on each seminar team will represent diverse majors and schools within the University, from business and economics to computer science, history, art, communication, nursing, economics, and English (to name just a few).

When students enter the workplace, we hope that they will have a sense of agency and preparation to think creatively, form teams, engage the marketplace, and collaborate across disciplines and departments. We hope that they will have a renewed sense of vocation to enter the world and ask deep, meaningful questions.

Makerspace: A space for collaboration

Innovation Studies operates a maker studio and creative space on campus in Hinderlie Hall to nurture connections and bring people, ideas, and disciplines together. From business prototyping to craft night to a space for lectures on innovation—we’ve got you covered. Everything that you need to get started on a creative project is here.

We believe that creativity and innovation work best when diverse and unexpected connections are fostered across student groups, majors, and academic-professional boundaries. Everyone on campus is welcome to participate in a workshop, drop in for a poster-making night, attend an electronics session, or meet members of the business community.

Program Influences

Innovation Studies at PLU is the first fully-developed academic program in the Pacific Northwest that studies innovation, entrepreneurship, and design through a rich interdisciplinary lens. Some courses relate to the cognitive processes of innovation or innovation in historical or ethical perspective; others pertain more directly to stages of the innovation process or professional skills considered useful in teams charged with bringing new ideas to market. We are proud of our program and its interdisciplinary strengths.

Michael Halvorson, Director of Innovation Studies
Dr. Michael Halvorson, Director of Innovation Studies
Dr. Chung-Shing Lee
Dr. Chung-Shing Lee, Dean of the School of Business

The Pacific Northwest is a region strongly connected to the tradition of entrepreneurship and social responsibility, from Boeing and Microsoft to Amazon, Alaska Airlines, Starbucks, and numerous companies involved with health-care innovation, computing, and entertainment.

Many of our alumni work in these companies and helped to start or expand them.

The director of Innovation Studies is Michael Halvorson, Ph.D., Benson Family Chair in Business and Economic History. Dr. Halvorson worked at Microsoft Corporation in the 1980s and 90s, and he was an early PC programming enthusiast and computer book author. Halvorson teaches courses on the history of innovation and technology, U.S. business and economic history, and (in alternating years) the concluding Innovation seminar.

Within business schools, innovation and entrepreneurship is often taught as an aspect of business strategy and management. For example, our own Dr. Chung-Shing Lee (Dean, School of Business) is a prolific scholar of innovation and technology management, and he is a founding sponsor of our program.

PLU is a place where the liberal arts and our mission strongly influence conversations across the University. From leading economists and designers, to specialists in communication, technology, health care, and ethics, our awarding-winning faculty has you covered!

The faculty steering committee for the Innovation Studies program is: Michael Halvorson (chair), Jp Avilia (Art & Design), Kory Brown (Business), Laurie Murphy (Computer Science), Michael Schleeter (Philosophy), and Karen Travis (Economics).

For a complete list of the PLU faculty members affiliated with the Innovation Studies program, click here.

Learning Objectives

A helpful way to explore the Innovation Studies minor and appreciate its strengths is to evaluate our learning objectives. These are the key skills that we expect you to gain from this program.

You will gain practical expertise in:

  • Studying creativity, problem solving, and the process of innovation; the courses selected for the program each have a problem-solving component, and teach students to express solutions through models, computer programs, quantitative measures, visual creations, or written forms;
  • Understanding contemporary business practices and procedures, including leadership and team-management principles;
  • Building the quantitative skills necessary for working with economic data and reading economic texts and reports;
  • Charting the success (and often failure) of influential entrepreneurs, inventors, products, corporations, non-profit institutions, and government entities;
  • Developing a sense for art & design and its role in the innovation process; preparing proposals, presentations, and websites that follow established design principles;
  • Developing substantive research, writing, and communication skills—learning how to write thesis-based essays and prepare compelling presentations and marketing materials;
  • Making compelling arguments about economic change over time, the reason for an invention’s success or failure, or the impact of new technologies or ideas on society; contextualize innovation in the marketplace and in relation to capitalism and other economic systems;
  • Learning to make cross-cultural comparisons and ethical judgments about economic and historical change; developing an ethical vocabulary for business and entrepreneurial activity;
  • Making connections to diversity, justice, and sustainability initiatives; as part of this work, improve educational outcomes for non-traditional students or “first generation” students;
  • Learning the fundamentals of ethical entrepreneurship and leadership; discovering how to take ideas and bring them to market—for good;
  • Working in teams to research, prepare, and present a strategic plan for a new idea, initiative, product, or solution (Innovation Seminar). Integrating ideas from students’ individual majors into the Innovation Studies minor.

By studying innovation, business, and the emerging global economy, students will be preparing themselves for future employment, study, and creative engagement with PLU’s core mission: to creatively inquire, serve, lead, and care — for other people, for their communities, and for the earth.