Graduate school has long been the realm of specialists. Students acquire master’s degrees to home in on their bachelor’s educations, and Ph.D.-holders are unparalleled experts in a narrow field. But, as Vikram Jandhyala told an audience at a Bellevue Chamber of Commerce lunch Wednesday, the new Global Innovation Exchange (GIX) will break that mold.
“If you want a social scientist to work with a data scientist to work with an engineer to work with a policy person on building the next good thing for a smart city, it’s a very complex conversation,” Jandhyala, co-CEO of GIX, said. “Yes, we can create all these amazing technologies, but what is the goal you’re trying to get to? What’s the societal goal, the policy goal?”
There was a great deal of hype around the school, a joint operation between the University of Washington and Beijing’s Tsinghua University that is bankrolled in part by $40 million from Microsoft, when it was announced in June. Few details about the school’s preparation have emerged since then, but Jandhyala on Wednesday laid out GIX’s path forward, how the school’s curriculum will function, and some of the hurdles that remain before Beijing students begin studying in 2016.
It’s clear GIX won’t operate like a traditional graduate school. Jandhyala said students will receive no grades; rather, they will leave with a project portfolio similar to what an art student might receive. The first crop of students, a group of 70 whose master’s program will focus on connected devices, will be made up of people with degrees in law, arts and sciences, engineering, and business. Curriculum is project-oriented, and students won’t be sitting through 90-minute lectures by instructors, who could be industry professionals, faculty, or entrepreneurs.
The 15-month program will begin with a preparatory phase that emphasizes socialization and networking among teams. “It’s sort of the dating phase,” Jandhyala joked. “We thought of calling this Tinder for GIX, but that didn’t go over well, so we need another name.” Next comes the practice phase, in which teams get used to each other and develop skills through trial projects and case work. The program ends with a launch phase, which in itself will differentiate GIX from other schools. Teams will eventually be whittled to three or four members with the goal of taking a product to market.
GIX’s conclusion, Jandhyala said, means there “is no failure once you get into a program like this.” Students, in theory, will have four options upon completing the program: A corporate partner that helped with the project can absorb a team and its product; the students can turn their project into a startup (GIX will help students secure seed money); a student can decide to specialize in an area and move on to a Ph.D. program; or a student can utilize the education and networking facilitated by GIX to land a job elsewhere.
One glaring issue has yet to be ironed out, though: intellectual property. “Multiple universities, multiple countries, multiple cultures, multiple technologies, multiple industries — how do you protect IP?” Jandhyala asked. The solution, at this point, has been to develop three IP options for students. Teams could take ownership of their intellectual property; they could make an arrangement with funding sources, be they venture capitalists or partnering corporations like Microsoft; or their projects could be open-source.
GIX studnets in Beijing are currently being selected; they’ll begin a 9-month program in 2016, then will join 35 U.S. students in Bellevue for a 15-month program beginning in 2017. Jandhyala said the organization is still looking for partnering universities, and that a European institution could be the next to jump aboard.
Certain pieces are falling into place, but Jandhyala made clear the first cohort would be an experimental one. He didn’t go into detail about Microsoft’s involvement with curriculum or intellectual property, and other degree programs haven’t yet been formulated. But a primary tenet of the GIX curriculum will be entrepreneurial thinking, so expect failure to be embraced, and change to be constant.