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Make industry challenges part of the curriculum

My idea is to incorporate problems which exist in various industries directly into a corresponding university program’s curriculum.

Photo of Frances Vaiopoulos-Karulas
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I'm a software developer by profession and I recall being amazed during the early days in my first job, just how little practical application some of the concepts we'd learned in school had on my day-to-day job. I think it would be a huge benefit to students to have representatives from industry leading companies (in the case of software development for instance, it might be organizations like Apple, Google & Facebook) come into the university and teach part of the curriculum. These industry experts could present students with current real-world problems faced by their particular businesses. For instance, a Google representative might talk about challenges encountered in certain search algorithms or a Facebook representative might discuss the issues faced with tailoring a user’s news feed to their interests. This would allow students to think about real-life applications to the concepts they’re learning in their classes; this would mean that the course organizers would have to assess which specific courses the real-life case studies should be associated with. For instance both of the above issues might be presented in a data management course or an algorithms class, where the practical problems could be correlated to the general themes being presented in the class. Students would be assigned course work by the visiting professionals that would be counted as part of their overall grade for the class; this would ensure an incentive to participate in the discussions.

There would also be incentive for different companies to participate in such a program as they would have an advantage when it came time to recruit graduating students; students would know more about these companies and might have a more vested interest in what they do. It would also be a good chance for more specialized industries (like firms that only develop medical software for example) to present their business to a new group of students that might not otherwise be exposed to their type of company. Finally, it might also spark innovation, as students could present new and fresh ideas for solving industry problems.

Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine higher education to support the needs of tomorrow?

My idea is designed for students wanting a practical component to their education. Due to my background I envisioned this idea with the technology industry in mind, but it's applicable to many courses of study, from medicine to law to math. This idea reimagines universities to allow them to be more practical in nature with respect to their curriculum. The tradition theories are still taught, but these ideas would also be supplemented with a view of how they are directly applied to industry.

This idea emerged from:

  • An individual

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

It would be great for individuals representing different industries to help recommend companies as well as real-life challenges that could be tackled in different university programs. It would be a good way to assess which educational areas this idea is applicable to and how successful it could be in different instances. It would also be really interesting to survey university students already in these programs to gage their level of interest in this kind of course material.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I think surveying local industries and university representatives to gage interest and support would be a good first step. What these groups think about the feasibility of this idea would be a good indicator of how successful it could be in practice. Having a pilot program would be the ideal situation. Perhaps even one full day workshop within one university class to gage the level of student participation and excitement about the real-life challenge presented to them.

Tell us about your work experience:

I am a software developer by profession and have worked for various organizations throughout my 15 year career. By nature programming has an intrinsic element of design associated with every project, so I’m very familiar with design concepts and ideas. I’ve also delved into the wonderful world of entrepreneurship with a venture called ‘My Girl Genius’; this small business aims to design science-themed apparel for young girls who aren’t always exposed to S.T.E.M. concepts (


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Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Frances,

Thank you for sharing your idea. There is a need for more connection between industry and higher education.

Have you seen The MatchMaker in the ideas phase? Is this close to what you envisage?

Photo of Frances Vaiopoulos-Karulas

Hi Kate,

Thanks so much for the note. I hadn't seen the Matchmaker idea, but I just looked it over and I think it's great! I'd be really interested to hear how they'll do their actual matching once they have enough interested parties on both sides of the potential relationship (i.e. both educators and industry professionals representing the same fields/interests). I'm glad to hear that others see the same gap and that there are concrete plans for attempting to fill it.

Thanks again!