Maximizing the Impact of Our Future Scholars

06/17/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This week, the University of Southern California announced a first-of-its-kind Diploma in Innovation Program for Ph.D. students. It's a highly selective, 12-unit course of study within the USC Graduate School designed to complement the students' disciplinary training with practical skills and creative perspectives to help them make maximum impact with their ideas.

Our doctoral students, like doctoral students everywhere, aim to gain deep understanding and create new scholarship in their own fields. The diploma's coursework will help candidates expand and re-envision their role, in the broader innovation ecosystem, beyond their immediate specialties in academia. It also provides the background in practical matters of business and innovation they need to translate their expertise into valuable solutions for global problems.

It's hardly uncommon for USC doctoral students to go on to make important contributions beyond their academic work. In fact, our students bring that desire when they get to USC. Our annual Student Innovator Showcase is filled with novel ideas for solving critical world problems, like a new model for carbon offsetting developed by a graduate student from the School of Policy, Planning, and Development to address global climate change. Or a DNA sequencing technology concept, presented by a molecular genetics student from our Keck School of Medicine, that could possibly find the link between mutations and human diseases 50 times more effectively than the current state of the art.

In a sense, the USC Ph.D. candidates who have already trod the difficult and unfamiliar path of innovation outside academia are the inspiration for the Diploma in Innovation. We realized we could make this path more efficient for our students if we were to provide them with tools specific to innovation, business, entrepreneurship, and the like.

None of this is to suggest that Ph.D. students don't make an impact through their scholarship and teaching in the university; that has always been and remains the primary role of the academy. But we should never miss an opportunity to broaden the impact of our major research universities, and expand our ability to produce great intellectual resources for the global community we share.