November 30, 2020

Purdue using Lilly Endowment grant to create innovation engine for transforming higher ed learning

INDIANAPOLIS and WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist will be the focus of a new transdisciplinary program at Purdue University.

What is being called “Innovation College” will become Purdue’s centralized (virtual) hub for developing and disseminating novel educational practices that can be used throughout Purdue’s colleges. It is made possible by a $5 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Innovation College will encourage faculty and staff to move outside of specific fields of study to create transdisciplinary learning programs and courses. In addition, Innovation College will promote experimenting with innovative teaching methods through stronger support for instructors to propose and try new ideas.

Lilly Endowment made this grant to Purdue as part of Charting the Future for Indiana’s Colleges and Universities, a $108.2 million initiative aimed at helping the leaders of Indiana’s 38 colleges and universities plan for and address future challenges and opportunities. Lilly Endowment awarded $6.2 million in planning grants under phase I of the Charting the Future initiative. Phase II included nearly $62 million in implementation grants. Grants under a third phase, which is competitive, will be awarded in 2021. Those grants will support collaborative efforts that seek to have large-scale impact on the ability of higher education institutions in Indiana to fulfill their educational missions.

classroom-lecture Helping develop new methods of teaching to replace students listening to a classroom lecturer are part of the idea behind an innovative partnership between Purdue University and Butler University. (Purdue University photo)

Jay Akridge, Purdue’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and diversity, said the idea of Innovation College really resonated with Purdue.

“For us, there’s no better way to look toward the future than to cultivate an innovation mindset today,” he said. “We don’t know what higher education will look like in a decade, but if we have a culture of innovation in place here that’s driving new, high-impact ideas, we’ll lead that future.”

Gary Bertoline, dean of Purdue Polytechnic Institute, said Innovation College strategies will allow Purdue to experiment with ideas such as learning measured through competency evaluation and not seat time, breaking down some traditional practices in higher education.

“Innovation College will give us the opportunity to really experiment with and try out very progressive kinds of programs that higher education needs in the 21st century,” said Bertoline, co-coordinator of the program. “We’ve learned that we have to reinvent ourselves and try new things. This will create new curriculum opportunities that involve all disciplines to develop better teaching methods that will enhance learning for the students’ benefit.”

The result is preparing students for an unknown future.

“We’re educating and graduating students for jobs that not only don’t yet exist, but could be dominant in society and the economy in the future,” said Rhonda Phillips, dean of Purdue’s Honors College and the program’s co-coordinator. “We’ve got to be able to generate flexible, interdisciplinary thinkers and creative thinkers who are able to adapt and respond to these changes.”

Bertoline said seed funding for new learning programs, courses and teaching ideas could come as early as January.

Purdue will collaborate on new ideas and opportunities with Butler University’s Butler Beyond Transformation Lab. Butler received a separate grant from Lilly Endowment as part of Lilly Endowment’s Charting the Future Initiative to develop Butler Beyond Transformation Lab.


Kathryn Morris, Butler’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, said the partnership gives both universities the opportunity to be more creative in the education delivered to students.

“Collaboration between Purdue’s Innovation College and the Butler Beyond Transformation Lab will enhance innovation at both institutions by leveraging each university’s strengths for the common good,” she said.

“I am confident that this partnership between Purdue and Butler will lead to new ideas to equip students with the transdisciplinary skills sets needed to both succeed in the future and to address some of society’s complex challenges.”

Through the partnership, each university will create an internal structure to support its respective teaching ideas and course implementation efforts. At Purdue, that structure will include a college advisory committee of faculty fellows, students and stakeholders for reviewing proposals of problems, projects and curriculum. The committee also will solicit and review project proposals.

Purdue and Butler will initially assign as many as three faculty fellows in an exchange between the campuses. This will allow both universities to look for opportunities to be creative and innovative.

The exchange could result in collaborations between the universities and new ideas for each campus to try on its own. The fellows will meet regularly.

To share new discoveries and approaches, Purdue and Butler will host convenings for higher education institutions throughout the state.

Innovation College will be launched in fall 2021, but projects could start receiving funding this spring. Pre-launch planning is underway. By July 2022, innovation working groups, a faculty development program and five new transdisciplinary programs of study will be established.

Phillips said the Innovation College program is an “incubator,” with every college on campus submitting innovative ideas and proposals from fellow faculty to benefit students beyond their time in higher education.

“We’ve seen these good ideas brought forward previously, and some have taken hold when it can be scaled up, but others haven’t,” she said. “What we want to create is a way to test these ideas that can really work and be able to support those and take them forward faster and farther.

“Innovation College is a way to help take those transformational ideas and scale them up so we can get the full impact of them at Purdue through our partnership with Butler and beyond.”

The ideas in Innovation College are intended to give students the mindset going forward that faculty are going to provide the fundamentals of learning, but the students must have the skill set, knowledge and motivation to continue to learn.

The program is a central component of Purdue’s Road Map for Transformative Undergraduate Education, the result of a yearlong engagement with faculty, staff and students across the West Lafayette campus.

The program might be considered the educational counterpart to Discovery Park, Purdue’s multidisciplinary research complex.

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked the No. 5 Most Innovative University in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at

Writer, Media contact: Brian Huchel, 765-494-2084,

Sources: Gary Bertoline, 

Rhonda Phillips, 

Jay Akridge, 

Kathryn Morris, 

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