Our Year in Learning

Jun 28 · 4 min read

Here at Tsai CITY, we had a busy 2018–2019 school year. We engaged over 10% of Yale’s student body and students from all 14 of Yale’s schools, from architecture to medicine. We ran a diverse portfolio of extracurricular programs, awarded almost $250,000 of funding, and advised hundreds of students and teams working on creative ideas.

Just as we encourage our students to experiment, we also continued to iterate this year, piloting new offerings and learning from our community. As we look back at the year, we’ve gathered some of the insights, big and small, that this experimentation yielded. From new programs that paid off to inspiration that came directly from students, we’ll be incorporating these lessons into our plans for next year and beyond. We’re learning with you — that’s what innovation is all about.

What does innovation mean?

“Innovation” can be a hard word to make sense of. So this year our Student Advisory Board headed to all corners of Yale’s campus, exploring what innovation looks like in different fields and communities. The responses they gathered, as well as insights from our partner organizations across campus, will inform all stages of our work, from selecting and designing programs to crafting communications.

No experience needed

This year, we heard that innovation and entrepreneurship could seem intimidating to students, who often weren’t sure of the best first step for getting involved. As a pilot response to this feedback, we launched our 101 workshop series: friendly, all-are-welcome intros to the basics of innovation and entrepreneurship. The workshops aimed to decode business buzzwords, introduce easy-to-implement approaches for idea generation, and more.

Close to home

This year, we wondered how students could innovate right here at Yale. So we partnered with Yale College’s dean, Marvin Chun, to launch the Chun Challenge for Change, which brought 16 student teams to the stage to pitch their ideas for improving campus life. The opportunity to pitch ideas for their own community, and to be heard by campus leaders, resonated with students. “I really liked the range of issues that they were tackling,” Dean Chun said in a Yale Daily News article on the pitch event. “There were just a lot of really, really good ideas. … Students give me good ideas all the time, but to be able to have that many good ideas in two hours was just a neat way to do things.”

Let’s talk about it

Our mentors offer office hours, and lots of them: 834 sessions this year, to be exact. Students can talk to us about anything related to innovation — they don’t need to have a specific idea to make use of office hours. This year, we heard from students about all kinds of things: career questions, how to explore opportunities on Yale’s campus, gaining confidence in storytelling, finding balance as an entrepreneur, and more.

Stay hungry

This year, our two highest-rated Intensives (multi-session, cohort-based experiential learning opportunities that go deep on a specific topic) were food-focused, as students explored fermentation and alternative meat. These programs brought together students from a broad range of disciplines for thoughtful conversations that touched on gastronomy, biochemistry, history, business, sustainability, ethics, and more. Now, we’re continuing to think about the future of food — and how we can help students create it.

We all fail

Fostering risk-taking and resilience is one of CITY’s core objectives, but what can that look like? As one answer to that question, this year we hosted our first Fail Night, creating a space to process and celebrate failures — complete with kazoos and a cake. Through theater games, story circles, and more, students opened up about failures and gained strength for moving forward. The event’s clear resonance has us thinking about how to continue to build spaces for talking about what happens when things don’t go to plan.

Teamwork: it’s a skill

This year, our students told us they wanted resources on team dynamics and emotional intelligence. So we launched a speaker series that brought founders and experts to campus to discuss skills for effective teamwork, created new modules for existing programs like our Accelerator, and started brainstorming even more ways to help students build truly connected teams.

From movies to medical devices

We helped catalyze 259 projects of all kinds, from exhibits and performances to tech ventures, this year. While cohort-based programs like our Accelerator and Summer Fellowship are often our most visible ways of supporting teams, the number of students and teams we supported this year highlights the key role of offerings like office hours and funding in our ecosystem of support for student innovators. The breadth of innovations that students are creating has us excited to continue to grow this ecosystem — and inspired to see what our community comes up with next.

For more on how we’re working to learn from our community, check out this piece on building a culture of feedback and this piece on collaborating with partners across campus. Learn more about CITY here.

By Laura Mitchell Tully


Ideas, perspectives, and works in progress from the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale.


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We aim to to inspire and support students from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to seek innovative ways to address real-world problems.



Ideas, perspectives, and works in progress from the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale.

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