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Student government emphasizes innovation

| Friday, December 9, 2016

This year’s student government administration is focusing on highlighting a previously unexplored aspect of student life at Notre Dame: innovation and entrepreneurship.

Student body president Corey Robinson said this issue first came up in discussing what the administration’s report to the University Board of Trustees should be because it applies to all areas of problem solving at Notre Dame.

“Entrepreneurship is something that is very important to me,” Robinson said. “Not just because of wanting more students to get businesses started, but rather just because if you look at the problems in a new, innovative light — multidisciplinary — and current students say, ‘Look, we have the resources to do something now,’ … that’s kind of the idea.”

Robinson said the history of the University also inspired the administration to examine how well the community is upholding Fr. Sorin’s original vision for Notre Dame.

“We wanted to connect to our tradition of, you know, Fr. Sorin with seven Holy Cross brothers coming to the middle of Indiana in the middle of a wintery mix,” he said. “ … He said right at the beginning, ‘I believe this University has the power to be one of the greatest forces for good in our country.’ Two hundred years later, here we are. We’re doing it, and we’re trying our best to fulfill that vision.

“I think that the vision is innovation.”

Using innovation in the administration’s approach to running student government gives them a new perspective on student issues, Robinson said.

“What we’re trying to say is, ‘Okay, well how can we look at these same tried and true issues in a new light?’” he said. “Looking at it through something no one ever thought about pursuing it before. Maybe that’s a better way if it’s different and correct; it can’t just be different for the sake of being different.”

In an interview last month, Robinson said this administration has been working toward integrating this initiative into the culture of Notre Dame since the beginning of their campaign.

“What we’ve been trying to do in student government … was how do we continue to push innovation and entrepreneurship to the forefront in everything that we do?” he said. “And that’s just how do we structure student government to do that? [Student body vice president Becca Blais] has been restructuring senate so we’ve been trying to change these little pieces throughout the past eight months now to get more students to be thinking about it.”

Blais said the changes within student government go well beyond her restructuring of the student senate.

“I would say most of the departments have really incorporated innovation as part of their drive and what they’re doing,” Blais said. “A lot have come up with these new ideas. I mean, look at community relations, for example. They’ve been next-level with the things they’ve been involved in, and they’ve reached out to the community in ways that I don’t think student government has done before.”

One of the biggest examples of this administration making innovation and entrepreneurship on campus more visible, Robinson said, is the addition of an entrepreneurial space to the Duncan Student Center.

“We’ve done different things like … bringing in the student perspective to the Duncan Student Center,” he said. “We said we wanted a space, and there is going to be an entrepreneurial space in the new Duncan Student Center.”

Having input in the Duncan Student Center was one of the administration’s “first big successes,” Blais said.

“When we looked at our platform pretty much everything — we had a very low-cost platform,” she said. “ … There were only a few big-cost items. We perceived this to be one of them — this innovation lounge — and then, I think before we even officially got into office, we started having meetings on it and they were like, ‘Done. We’ll put it in [Campus] Crossroads.’ So that was awesome.”

Blais also pointed to additional forums for discussion about diverse issues on campus as more examples of the initiative’s impact on campus.

“The Sexual Assault Survivor Support group — that was the first time that had ever been done,” she said. “And then ND for Syria — that was the first time. … These conversations that people have been having about race and diversity and relations on campus, [we’re] encountering them in a new way.”

In last month’s interview, Blais said the administration has always and will continue to keep entrepreneurship and innovation in mind with every decision it makes.

“Entrepreneurship and innovation can be integrated into everything you do,” she said. “So far in our administration we have really tried to live by that principle. Every project that we’ve done has integrated some principle of innovation, so integrating it into your life and accepting the challenges and the risk that it entails [is part of it].”

Robinson said the initiative will continue to be relevant in every aspect of student government for years to come.

“It’s a permeating thing,” he said. “ … It permeates every part of student government, the whole innovation endgame.”

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About Courtney Becker

Courtney is a senior from New York City majoring in film, television and theater with a minor in journalism, who recently wrapped up her year as Editor-in-Chief. She is a former resident of Pasquerilla West Hall and a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

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