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Connection and Learning for Higher Ed Leaders and Practitioners

Connection and Learning for Higher Ed Leaders and Practitioners

A Look Inside the University Innovation Lab

Throughout our ten-year history, the University Innovation Alliance (UIA) has focused on helping its member institutions achieve increased student success and graduation rates. In 2023, the UIA launched its University Innovation Lab (UI Lab), an online hub and practitioner community that helps student success professionals innovate to improve outcomes for all students. Erin Sweeten, the UI Lab’s Assistant Director, helps us explain the history of this project, the benefits and resources it provides, and who can use them.

Why We Need the University Innovation Lab

The University Innovation Lab is for campus leaders and practitioners who are trying to move the needle on student success. We know how challenging this can be, especially for those who feel like the lone voice calling for innovation within a large institution, and we’ve experienced how beneficial it can be to connect with like-minded individuals. The idea for the Lab grew out of the UIA’s desire to provide higher education professionals with access to timely conversations and training opportunities, the results and knowledge from initiatives being tested at UIA partner institutions, and chances to collaborate and connect with others working on similar challenges.

“People became very excited about the work that we were doing and wanted to find ways to participate,” Erin says. “And because the actual membership lift can be a lot and not everyone can join the actual Alliance, we wanted to make another, easier way for people to join in the work with whatever resources and time that they have. We believe that good ideas can come from anywhere and that diffusing ideas that work allows us to impact change on a larger scale.”

Quote by Erin Sweeten re: how the UI Lab accepts and diffuses ideas to impact large-scale change.

Starting from a high-traffic website, the Lab was the next logical step: a subscription-based platform designed to help scale and diffuse ideas as higher ed professionals share their own thoughts and experiences while learning from others. The UIA invites institutions nationwide to subscribe, learn from the work of our member institutions, and collaborate alongside us.

How the Lab Contributes to Student Success

The Lab is focused on advancing student success through these key imperatives:

  1. Planning: Resources for developing comprehensive and integrated student success initiatives.
  2. Implementing: Launching and implementing proven tools for activating comprehensive, scalable success initiatives.
  3. Building capacity: Helping practitioners enhance skills and knowledge through courses and workshops.

Erin explains, “We can help you learn to make room for new ideas through something like a design facilitation workshop guide so that you don't have to hire an expensive consultant. You can sit down with your team and walk through it, thinking of new ideas.”

In addition to providing a forum for sharing what works on a variety of campuses, the Lab provides playbooks, step-by-step guides, and templates for projects that experienced UIA members can help replicate and implement. One of the most popular offerings is the process mapping course, which teaches participants to assess how things get done at their institution and find ways to make it work better for students and staff.
“What I hear from people a lot is that they go into the Lab, and they come away inspired,” says Erin. “For example, we have a guide that can walk you through an intensive landscape analysis of your university. Maybe they don't want to do the entire analysis, but they come away inspired by two or three things that they know they can do on their campus.”

What Higher Ed Institutions Get With Their Lab Membership

When a campus or institution joins the University Innovation Lab, they can expect these benefits:

  1. Unlimited access for entire faculty and staff: The Lab is open to any staff or faculty member who would want to access the resources. By offering a general membership, we can onboard anyone who wants to participate.
  2. Resource library: The Lab offers a continuous resource library built from what the UIA has learned and is currently learning through our work and our projects. Whenever we host an event, it’s an opportunity to generate even more resources from the from voices of our many participants.
  3. Workshops: We have workshops on numerous subjects, such as change management, writing grant proposals, and hiring practices. We listen to what people want to learn more about, and we try to provide that expertise.
  4. Professional development: For those with demanding schedules, the Lab offers self-paced courses, articles, and guides to help meet individual PD needs.
  5. Discounts to additional experiences: These might include benefit pricing for certain live UIA events.

Powered by the UIA, the Lab grants your institution access to our proven practices, trainings, tools, and templates — accelerating your efforts on interventions that work. “We know that sometimes we get lost in the weeds on our own campuses,” Erin acknowledges. “When you join the University Innovation Lab, you get support and resources, and in hearing from others, you realize how far you've actually come and how much more you can actually do.” We go faster and farther when we work together.

Ready to join this community of higher ed innovators? Request a subscription.

Interested in learning more? You can also schedule a demo with our team and we'll help you get a feel for how the UI Lab can help your school innovate.


Guest Bio

Erin Sweeten, Assistant Director, University Innovation Lab Erin Sweeten oversees the University Innovation Lab, a digital resource library and collaboration space for higher ed professionals innovating to improve student experiences and outcomes on their campuses. She leads the implementation of Lab growth strategy, develops and curates content aligned with user needs and UIA expertise, maintains and updates the Lab website, and supports community recruitment and engagement efforts. Prior to joining UIA, her career has included project management, writing, teaching, instructional design, and technical expertise in higher education, government, and nonprofit settings. While facilitating collaboration among people from organizations that differ significantly in culture and interests, she has seen how positive shared goals and collective goodwill can generate meaningful working relationships and high-impact results. That experience has strengthened her commitment to building a collaborative environment for transformational change to erase inequities for underrepresented students in higher ed. Erin earned an MA in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and has served in the Peace Corps in Benin, West Africa.

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