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Graham Center for Collaborative Innovation Begins Inaugural Semester

November 29, 2022
A rendering of the future Mill House, home of the Graham Center for Collaborative Innovation

York College embraces a long history of providing invaluable connections among students, faculty, and community leaders through experiential learning. This fall, that vision is coming together in a new way with the launch of the Graham Center for Collaborative Innovation (GCCI).

The GCCI consists of three equally important components: the Knowledge Park, the Honors Community, and the Center for Faculty Excellence. Together, the triad will further the mission of creating project-based learning initiatives and helping the business community find innovative solutions while helping students design extraordinary lives.

Knowledge Park fosters a culture of innovation

The Knowledge Park is one of the three legs that make up the GCCI stool. Taking shape in the former Schmidt & Ault Paper Co. building in York, it will be a hub where external businesses and nonprofit organizations will come together with students, faculty, and one another to collaborate, innovate, solve problems, and create opportunities for high-knowledge, high-wage employers to grow their operations in the city of York – with local talent.

Executive Director of the Knowledge Park Jeff Vermeulen envisions a space where the walls between academia and industry come down. He worked with start-up businesses while serving as Executive Director of the J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship on campus. As the businesses grew and were ready to hatch from the incubator, many, such as MRG Labs, wanted to stay connected to the College.

Vermeulen and College leadership began thinking about ways that York College could work with more mature, later-stage enterprises. From there, the idea for the Knowledge Park took root.

From tech companies to engineering firms, production studios to healthcare companies, Vermeulen foresees a diverse array of industries setting up shop at the Knowledge Park. The space will comprise two buildings. The first, the Mill House, is to be completed in late fall 2022.

The 3,200-square-foot facility will be home to the GCCI administrative offices. Vermeulen expects there is enough square footage to allow for a Knowledge Park partner or two whose operations can be served in a traditional office setting to hang a shingle at the Mill House as well.

Behind the Mill House sits the former paper mill warehouse, which is being redeveloped into the Knowledge Park’s flexible innovation spaces. Phase one of the warehouse space is scheduled to open in late 2023.

“The Knowledge Park, connecting to campus partners through GCCI, is a game-changer,” says Vermeulen. “We haven’t found one of our peer institutions that has this type of distinctive economic development tool to enhance the educational experience for students.”    

Vermeulen has sensed a lot of energy in talking with those whom he’s recruiting as Knowledge Park partners. One of those partners is the research wing of WellSpan Health. In the summer of 2022, the GCCI had its first cohort of students go through a Summer Undergraduate Research Internship Program (SURIP) with WellSpan Research. Vermeulen hopes to see this and other programs like it grow with the official launch of the Knowledge Park.

Honors Community students lead the way

The GCCI wouldn’t be a campuswide collaborative entity without student involvement. The second spoke of the GCCI is comprised of the Scholars and Fellows of the Honors Community. Central to this work will be the Graham Collaborative Innovation Fellows, directed by Dr. Dominic DelliCarpini.

While any student can work with the GCCI, the Honors Community serves as student leadership, helping make it an active learning space for all York College students. It also partners with faculty to encourage academic innovation through the Student Academic Innovation Lab (SAIL).

As the Director of the Honors Community, Karin Swartz makes it a priority to get her Honors Community students connected with the York community. In their first week, first-year students tour York City, connecting with people.

“We believe in experiential learning,” Swartz says. “We see the Honors Community as leaders in that effort.”

The Honors Community brings together students in a variety of Fellows and Scholars programs, each with their own mission, including the Graham Collaborative Innovation Fellows, Eisenhart Community Scholars, Presidential Research Fellows, Gordon Leadership Scholars, and DelliCarpini Community Art Scholars, Hope Scholars, and STEM Scholars.

Swartz sees her role as being a connector in that effort. No matter the cause, program leaders are there to connect students with mentors and organizations that will lead those interests to the next level.

For the 2022-2023 school year, the Honors Community will partner with the York County Economic Alliance to work on the creek-side Codorus Greenway project and an array of projects launched in previous years.

The Graham Collaborative Innovation Fellows, who focus on entrepreneurship and innovation—but who represent many different majors–will benefit by close connections with the larger business community as they launch their careers.

The Center for Faculty Excellence

The faculty-focused spoke of the GCCI is the Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) directed by Dr. Holly Sypniewski. The CFE aims to empower York College’s faculty members as they look for ways to collaborate across disciplines, with local businesses, and through global experiences.

“Academia has created academic majors that make students feel like they’re only learning one field of study,” says Dr. DelliCarpini. “What they should be learning is how to work across those fields of study.”

In a post-pandemic world where many colleges and universities are doubling down on virtual experiences, York College is taking a different approach.

Much of Dr. DelliCarpini’s effort is focused on bringing people together to productively collaborate. His hope is that through the GCCI, faculty will create new types of classes that are cross-disciplinary and incorporate partnerships with local business leaders beyond just having them speak in a lecture hall.

Many of the greatest breakthroughs that he has seen have happened by serendipity, when people are in a room together, rubbing elbows, sharing workspace, and creating a nexus of relationships.

As the GCCI comes online in phases over the next few years, Vermeulen, Swartz, and Dr. DelliCarpini are looking forward to the future. Vermeulen hopes that the combination of the Knowledge Park, Honors Community, and Center for Faculty Excellence will play a role in encouraging students educated at York College to stay in Pennsylvania and find the career opportunities they seek.

“We believe that the student experience that will be gained, the new ideas gained by our partners, and the type of employment opportunities that will grow and be retained through our efforts will prove a very tangible value for our current students, faculty, community, and region well into the future,” Vermeulen says.