October 22, 2021

York College Receives Gift to Fund Creation of Graham Center for Collaborative Innovation

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York College has been planning for several years the creation of a centerpiece organization to promote innovation through collaboration across the entire campus. A transformative gift from York businessman Don Graham, through the Graham Foundation, will allow for those plans to come to fruition with the creation of the Graham Center for Collaborative Innovation (GCCI)

“This gift will allow York College to move forward with a very important initiative that will distinguish us from many other institutions,” said President Pamela Gunter-Smith. “The GCCI will promote some of the most important aspects of a York College education: high-impact, experiential learning; innovation; collaboration; and community engagement.”

York College has long been known for its practical and experiential approach to education, focusing on real-world experiences that allow students to apply their learning beyond the classroom walls.  With the creation of the GCCI, the College distinguishes itself from other institutions by providing a “home base” for such initiatives to ensure every student is engaged in the cornerstone of learning at York College: high-impact practices, opportunities that range from internships to active, project-based learning that engage and challenge students, and promote deeper understanding.

The GCCI will promote collaboration throughout the entire campus on the College’s distinctive focus on experiential learning, according to Provost Laura Niesen de Abruna. “This refers to student experiences that are active and engaged, and includes project-based learning, problem-based learning, clinicals, international and global experiences, co-ops, internships, field experiences and student teaching, community-based learning, student-faculty research, internships as well as independent studies and tutorials that have an experiential focus. These experiences are what make York College so different from other institutions that might look like us but cannot offer this range of active learning to their students.”

The GCCI serves as the unifying element for three interconnected campus entities: 1) the Engaged Scholars and the Graham Collaborative Innovation Fellows, a corps of innovative student leaders from diverse disciplines who learn through real-world experiences; 2) the Center for Academic Innovation that develops, supports, and encourages faculty to make high-impact educational practices and digital pedagogy central features of a York College education; and 3) the Knowledge Park, a learning laboratory that enhances opportunities for students and faculty to interact with local businesses and organizations.

“I happen to be extremely high on what I call entrepreneurial thinking, which really encompasses risk taking and collaboration throughout an entire organization,” said Graham. “It’s hard to keep an entrepreneurial spirit in a company as it grows. We tend to build departmental silos in industry and in education. You cannot get anything done without collaboration between all disciplines. The Center will draw people from every discipline across the campus to work together.”

Graham’s gift also endows the Graham Fellows (formerly known as the Graham Innovation Scholars) and ties the group to the GCCI. “The Center broadens the base of what we are trying to do in the Fellows program, by involving faculty and community in collaborative activities,” said Graham. “The CCI will be home for the Graham Fellows, and will also serve as an extension. More people – faculty, students, and the community – will be drawn into collaborative activities.”

“The Graham Fellows program is one of the student arms of the GCCI,” said Dominic DelliCarpini, dean of the Center for Community Engagement. “The Fellows, along with the Engaged Scholars, will be central to engaging other students across campus in the work of the GCCI.”

An Executive Director of the GCCI will be hired and report directly to the President Pamela Gunter-Smith. The GCCI office will be located in the Mill House on Kings Mill Depot Road.

"Pulling the pieces together for the GCCI couldn't have happened at a better time,” said Jeff Vermeulen, assistant vice president for external relations. “The GCCI will be an established, functioning unit of the College ready to incorporate the first phase of Knowledge Park partners under roof in the late fall/early spring next year."

Graham was a member of the York College Board of Trustees from 1983 to 1995, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree in 2002. Through his business, Graham made the initial gift that launched the York College Community Opportunity Scholarship Program (YCCOSP).

He also made significant gifts to York College to name the Graham School of Business and Graham Field at the Grumbacher Sport and Fitness Center.

“Entrepreneurial thinking encompasses collaboration,” Graham said. “Entrepreneurs figure out how to involve input from all areas, or they will fail. Collaboration is just necessary for activity of all sorts. The Center will enhance students in their profession and throughout their lives as they experience innovation through collaboration. Hopefully, this will be a real difference maker for YCP as competition for students gets tougher.”