Dear Alumni, Parents, and Friends of Colorado College,

“Are you ready?” I asked the Class of 2014 on a brilliant Commencement morning in May. Hoots and cheers rose from the crowd. Yes, after four years of developing the knowledge, skills, and character to help them become lifelong learners, imaginative individuals, and inspired leaders, they are ready to take on the world.

In their years at CC, they developed important qualities that will benefit them throughout their lives: resilience, humility, grit, and creativity. Through the Block Plan, they learned to focus, devoting themselves to a single subject at a time, instilling the importance of being present as a means of solving complicated problems. They are comfortable with collaboration and complexity. They can work through information that might be overwhelming, an important skill in today’s world of information overload.

As our world keeps changing ever more rapidly, how can we build upon these wonderful qualities and give our students an even greater edge?

We are well positioned: In the U.S., liberally educated men and women have been a driving force behind America’s economic development. Most American Nobel Laureates did their undergraduate education at liberal arts colleges and universities. In fact, small colleges produce Ph.D. candidates at the highest rates in the U.S. in all fields including STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). At CC, the development of our students’ creative and innovative ideas is strongly supported.

Our students, faculty, and alumni have long been creative innovators, surprising the world by combining disciplines — think of Abigail Washburn ’99 merging Mandarin Chinese and bluegrass — or tackling social issues like Shawn Sears ’98 and Laura Dickerson Sears ’99, who started Vida Verde, a nonprofit that promotes educational equity by providing free, overnight, environmental learning experiences for students who don’t otherwise get the opportunity. Assistant Professor Marie Davis-Green’s class, which took on community-related work when they created a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly redesign for the local Bon Shopping Center.

Doron Mitchell ’14 studied art and commerce in contemporary musical theater with Professor Ryan Bañagale ’00; Fiona Horner ’15 and Maia Wikler ’15 prepared to carry out an anthropological survey in Costa Rica with the help of Professor Esteban Gómez.

What if we stoked those fires, providing a framework and mentors for our students to innovate and launch their ideas? Might our graduates be even more ready for this fast-changing world?

At CC, we are building a focus on innovation within the liberal arts experience with our new Innovation Institute. This is where students and faculty can engage in big-picture thinking and collaborate to produce real-world answers to complex questions. The Innovation Institute will create new opportunities alongside existing programs: The State of the Rockies Project has for a decade found creative ways to draw attention to environmental issues in the region. The Keller Family Venture Grant Program helps more than 100 students each year undertake their own intellectual adventures. The Public Interest Fellowship Program gives students experience working on critical issues through summer- and year-long internships in Front Range nonprofit organizations. The Global Social Internship program provides students with opportunities to learn about and propose creative solutions to international development efforts. Through innovative collaborations, exhibitions, performances, and speakers, the IDEA Space integrates the visual arts into campus life.

Another element of the Innovation Institute is our Big Idea program. It’s a competition for teams of students to create and develop startup ideas, culminating at an exciting public event where each team presents to a panel of judges. The winning teams share a $50,000 prize to serve as seed money for launching their ventures. The Big Idea builds on the intensity and rigor of the Block Plan while encouraging and developing innovation and entrepreneurship, critical elements for all CC students no matter which major they choose.

Great ideas don’t just fall from the sky. Current research tells us that creativity is most often a collective, rather than a solitary pursuit; that innovation thrives with the skillful crafting of constraints; and that, as sociologist Ronald Burt argues, we are most “susceptible” to novel ideas when our networks span the gaps between disciplines.

At Colorado College, we’ve decided to — very intentionally — add innovation and collaboration to the mix so our students indeed will be “ready” for an amazing future.

With warm regards,

Jill Tiefenthaler