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The National University System Launches New Innovation Grant Program

October 21, 2016

Innovation Grant Program
Innovation Grant Awardees at NUS Headquarters for the kickoff event.

San Diego, Calif. – The National University System (NUS) has launched an exciting new Innovation Grant Program that is encouraging faculty and staff to develop innovative strategies and approaches to support the exceptional student experience and student success. Following a rigorous evaluation process, 23 proposals were awarded Innovation Grants to develop projects this academic year. The projects represent a range of innovative approaches that include mentorship projects, addressing veteran needs and even looking at ways that classroom design can improve student learning.

The National University System is a network of private, nonprofit universities, including John F. Kennedy University, National University and City University of Seattle that has distinguished itself by offering market-relevant degrees through innovative programs. The initiative aligns with the System’s 2020 Strategic Plan, which maintains innovation as one of its core values and builds on the foundation that National University laid in 1971 when it began its pioneering work serving adult learners in new and creative formats. The National University System Office of Strategy and Innovation is leading this initiative with the full support of the Board of Trustees, the Office of the Chancellor and the Affiliate Presidents.  All parties understand that part of fulfilling the System’s nonprofit mission and vision relies on engaging its faculty and staff.

“John F. Kennedy University has a long history of success which has been fueled by the innovative spirit and creativity of our faculty and staff,” said Dr. Michael R. Cunningham, Chancellor of the National University System.  “This new program highlights their exceptional talent, and provides an inspiring view of what’s possible for all of our universities across the system.”

In September, when awardees from all affiliates came together for the first time, it resulted in a collegial atmosphere that fostered new relationships across the System and revealed areas for increased collaboration within the proposals.

“I am very pleased with the new Innovation Grant Program,” said Ms. Debra Bean, President of JFK University. “The collaborative efforts inspired by these awards are well-aligned with the National University System mission to provide superior services, meaningful learning, and market-relevant programs that result in the ultimate student experience.”

While still in the early stages of development, the projects represent a wide variety of solutions for new offerings and levels of support for students.  Here is a brief overview of the plans from John F. Kennedy University’s awardees:

  • Volunteer Opportunities Immersion Corps (VOIC) is a pilot program that supports institutional engagement with the nonprofit sector and addresses the priority needs of nonprofit organizations.  Corporate demand for hiring graduates with career competencies is increasing, and by surveying local nonprofit organizations, a better understanding of in-demand skills can be obtained.  This program aims to enhance the service learning component of JFK University by incorporating the training curriculum of the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy at JFK University to create a corps of skilled student volunteers and become a hub of volunteer activity in the Bay Area. This also provides student volunteers the opportunity to gain marketable skills working in the field.
  • Holistic Research Institute is designed to explore holistic counseling psychology constructs such as mindfulness and expressive arts interventions. By capturing the spirit of holistic learning and establishing collaborative partnerships across the National University System and externally, this program seeks to expand research methodology to understand the best research practices that impact clinical application of holistic methodology in the field.

As this is a first-time initiative, the Office of Strategy and Innovation was thrilled to receive nearly 70 creative proposals focused on next-generation learning and enhancing services for students. The project lead for each proposal was required to be a full-time faculty or staff member, however, employees at all levels have joined these projects.  As demonstrated in some of the plans mentioned above, the grantees have been encouraged to engage students and alumni, and work with colleagues across the System.  The Innovation Grant Program will help us learn and scale best practices, as we continue to develop services that keep the National University System a network of distinctive, leading edge universities.  For more information about the Innovation Grant Program, please contact the Office of Strategy and Innovation at