MIDDLEBURY, Vt. ? Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz announced Feb. 17, during a meeting with Middlebury’s board of trustees, the establishment of the college’s Project on Creativity and Innovation in the Liberal Arts. The goal of the new initiative is to develop an environment in which students can exercise creativity, pursue innovation and become more comfortable with intellectual risk-taking during their four years as students at Middlebury College. Liebowitz named Elizabeth Hackett Robinson director of the project.
The donor-funded, multi-year initiative began 18 months ago with a year-long external review of the relatively small number of undergraduate programs that focus on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial studies at colleges and universities across the country. Several Middlebury faculty were then interviewed by an outside consultant to assess their views on what students do outside class - and how what they do relates to their work with faculty - as well as whether the current student culture is open to experimenting and taking risks in unfamiliar areas.

The initiative will focus primarily on providing opportunities for students to explore creative skills and practice problem solving outside a strictly graded environment. “The initiative will draw from, and build on, the excellence of our academic program at Middlebury,” said Liebowitz. “All faculty members, regardless of their academic specializations, will be invited to play a role as mentors and advisers to students who participate.” According to Liebowitz, the initiative will likely kick off with a series of campus wide competitions in which students will compete, through self-assembled teams, to solve specific challenges for tangible rewards.

Robinson, a 1984 graduate of Middlebury, has served the college previously in several capacities. From 1994 through the college’s Bicentennial Celebration in 2000, Robinson was director of alumni and parent programs. From 2002 to 2004, she was program director for DigitalBridges2.0, a college organization for student entrepreneurs. Robinson has a master’s degree in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania and eight years of leadership experience in the nonprofit and private sectors.

Rory Riggs, the initial sponsor of the new project and a 1975 graduate of Middlebury, recognizes the need for a particular set of skills that is essential to the success of today’s students. “Building upon the lifelong value of a liberal arts education, this initiative seeks to supplement what Middlebury students learn in class with opportunities to enrich their out-of-class experiences, specifically for the sake of getting students to act on their creativity - to make the process of innovation second nature and part of their lifetime critical skills portfolio,” said Riggs.

Many Middlebury students engage in significant co-curricular endeavors, such as community service through the college organization Alliance for Civic Engagement, service-learning projects related to areas of study, programs associated with DigitalBridges2.0, and academic research with faculty mentors. The students’ efforts have resulted in new college institutions and programs, such as an organic garden; a student-owned and operated company, Campus Storage Inc.; and a carbon neutrality initiative. According to Liebowitz, the Project on Creativity and Innovation in the Liberal Arts seeks to foster this entrepreneurial spirit and make such efforts a more deeply ingrained part of the Middlebury College undergraduate experience.