John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Why Didn’t I Think of That?

November 10, 2015huhnInsights0

John N. Gardner

John Gardner copySurely all of my readers at one time or another have had the thought “why didn’t I think of that?” In my own case, as much as I travel, I wish I had invented the roller board suitcase. What a back saver that has been! And millions of them are in use in every size, shape, color.

And what about bottled water? Why didn’t I think of taking a substance that exists usually in some “free” form and packaging it, making it portable, and get people wanting to pay for something for a commodity that historically they did not think of paying for?

I have just been in Spain where I was reminded of the universality of a device that I didn’t think of but am glad others did: the cell phone. This is truly a one-world phenomenon. Everywhere I looked, on the streets, in restaurants, in parks, airports, almost everyone I saw—several thousand over 10 days or so—were holding this one device in common. It has become essential in ways that we could not have imagined. Its use is changing the way we communicate, spend our time, meet new people, retrieve information, you name it. When my wife and I go out for a meal, there are really three of us: Betsy, me, and her smart phone. Yes, I have one too. But I am not on it as constantly as she is. She knows our meals are non-stop conversation and we will constantly be raising questions with each other about something we want to know the answer to—and out comes her phone to retrieve the answer. Why didn’t I think of this?

Well, I did think of something that hundreds of thousands of people have used, experienced, mostly for their betterment. I am the creator of the “first-year experience” concept, which has been adopted in programmatic formats in a few thousand colleges and universities the world over in such manners as to pay more attention to the success of beginning higher education students than we used to. My invention came about in 1982 and was developed in the context of my employment with the University of South Carolina. So when I registered this form of intellectual property, as a registered trademark, I did so with the University of South Carolina as its proper owner—which is exactly what I should have done—no regrets. In 1998 we adjusted the “mark” out of respect for women, from “the freshman year experience” to “the first-year experience.” I am also the creator of the “senior year experience” concept to call more attention to another critical transition period during undergraduate years. And in my professional life for the past sixteen years I have created with my colleagues in our non-profit John N. Gardner Institute, a number of other trademarks that describe our processes: Foundations of Excellence, Gateways to Completion, and Retention Performance Management.

I guess I could argue that I could or should quit while I am ahead. Most people don’t ever get to create anything in life that becomes widely used by others, let alone has redeeming social value. But I was socialized by my mentors to never rest on my laurels and be complacent. So seeing all these Spaniards doing what my fellow US citizens and students are doing, all of them doing one thing in common, using a smart phone, has nourished my professional fantasy life on this trip resulting in my asking: what is it that I could invent that every campus in the world would want to have, do, use, join, share? I really have been racking my brain about this.

At this point in my career, the thing I want to be part of more than anything else professionally, is a world-wide movement to transform gateway courses, where all the failure is occurring in higher education. Under the leadership of our Institute’s Dr. Drew Koch, I have been working with my colleagues on the development of a new process to fulfill this fantasy that I have just shared. We have created Gateways to Completion, G2C, and are attempting to launch a higher education reform movement to reduce the deplorable D,W, F, I, grade rates eventually the world over.

Is this a smart phone, bottled water, roller bag invention moment? Well not yet. But nobody gets anything done of consequence with low aspirations. So we’ll see. I invite you to stay tuned and check out our work. This just might turn out to be really something!

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