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Northwestern University

Letter from the Dean: Cultures of Innovation

Portrait of Dean Adrian Randolph

The word "entrepreneur" has a particular connotation in today's economy and society. Social entrepreneurs transform activism and services, while digital entrepreneurs develop the apps that increasingly structure our lives.

But the word also suggests a mindset beyond those activities. It signals a type of creativity and innovation - the ability to recognize societal or individual needs and develop the means to satisfy them. This activity requires empathy and imagination, the capacity to see the world through the eyes of others, and the ability to imagine new solutions to the problems surveyed.

Moreover, the word "entrepreneurship" points to a set of skills that are absolutely necessary for working with a group. For though our image of the entrepreneur might be of a solitary agent, the reality is rather different. Entrepreneurs often end up being managers of small businesses, responsible for motivating and inspiring others to advance their ideas.

And to me the word "entrepreneur" also indicates a certain adaptability and flexibility. The ethos of entrepreneurship is one of serial engagements and a certain restlessness.

I must confess that to my ears, the word "entrepreneur" is by now unfortunately hackneyed, spoiled by overuse in the verbal hyperinflation of our sometimes ironically labeled "knowledge" economy. But when I think about its connotations in a lived sense - empathy and imagination, creativity and innovation, adaptability and flexibility - I recognize ways in which the interdisciplinary arts and sciences support precisely the ways of thinking that entrepreneurship requires.

Our interdisciplinary degree compels our students to encounter various methodologies that inculcate the values of empathy, creativity and teamwork. The breadth of our curriculum encourages the development of an adaptable mindset. And our faculty members model entrepreneurship in their research - running laboratories with scores of investigators, pursuing questions of critical interest to society, and conducting research in all corners of the earth.

By drawing our undergraduate and graduate students into our research enterprise to produce new knowledge, we demonstrate a culture of innovation and the thoughtful entrepreneurship our society craves.

Adrian Randolph signature

Adrian Randolph
Dean, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

(Photo: Rob Hart)

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