No. 2 most innovative: You’ve heard it before but here’s how Georgia State got there

Georgia State has not wasted time showcasing that it was ranked No. 1 in teaching and No. 2 in innovation by U.S. News & World Report for 2019. The university spent about $318,000 on advertisements just to feature that achievement in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. 

But what exactly do these rankings mean?

To start, both of the rankings are determined on a survey of top presidents, provosts and admissions at colleges and universities across the country. A school has to receive seven or more nominations in ordered to be considered. 

Regarding the undergraduate teaching ranking, the survey respondent has to rank a school in their top 15 in order for the school to be considered. 

The innovation ranking doesn’t just apply to technology or sciences but also curriculum, campus life, faculty and facilities. 

U.S. News describes the reasons for Georgia State’s innovation ranking include the 200 majors and minors offered, the Freshman Learning Communities program and the more than 400 student organizations offered. Students even have the ability to give input in the planning of new university-wide programs and ideas. 

“The university is committed to research in its centers and institutes, where students can get involved and present their work at the annual Undergraduate Research Conference,” the US News report stated.

“I believe that restructuring our universities to better serve all students and drive student success is absolutely essential to the future of higher education and the modern university,” Georgia State University President Mark Becker said in a press release

The Student Success Center has been led by Timothy Renick since 2008. Renick started at Georgia State as a chair of the department of religious studies and director of the Honors Program before entering his current position as the senior vice president for Student Success. 

Renick’s direction for Student Success has helped with the “fastest improving graduation rates in the nation and the elimination of all achievement gaps based on students’ race, ethnicity or income level,” according to his biography on the Student Success website. 

Student Success has pushed a number of initiatives to increase student engagement, including the Success Academy and the chatbot Pounce. 

Success Academy was started in 2012 as an alternative to deferring rejected applicants — giving them a second chance to become a Panther. These students spend time in the summer working with tutors, financial literacy and academic skills programs, all while enrolling in seven credits’ worth of college classes.

Darien Dawson, a Georgia State graduate, attended Success Academy in the summer of 2013.

“The [Success Academy] staff was standing by and willing to help when I needed it,” Dawson said. “The friends I made in the program are friends I still have now, but the only thing the program did not prepare me for was the full-swing semester, so it was still stressful in the fall.” 

Dawson also observed that many people in the program did not take advantage of what it had to offer. 

“There was no system set in place to hold us accountable to show up for meetings with our cohorts, so it was up to us to take advantage of the program,” he said.

Pounce, the automated chatbot, sends and answers thousands of questions via text messages to all incoming and current Georgia State students. These messages include answering questions about financial aid and immunization documents, placement exams and class registration. 

Sinclaire Johnson, a senior at Georgia State, said she rarely notices the notifications she receives. 

“I definitely understand how the chatbot could be helpful, but in my years attending [Georgia State], I’ve noticed that it is usually too late to alert me to things,” Johnson said. “In the past, Pounce has led me back to Panther Answer, which can feel like a black hole.”

But despite Johnson’s experience, Pounce delivered more than 200,000 answers to questions asked by incoming freshmen, which reduced the number of students who get admitted but never enroll by 22%, according to the Student Success website.

Arizona State University, which holds the No. 1 spot in innovation for the fifth year in a row — beating out Georgia State — attributes its success to its focus on programs in the School of Life Sciences. 

The university launched the world’s largest canine cancer vaccine trial in May, which was led by Stephen Johnston, a professor in the School of Life Sciences and the director of the Center for Innovations in Medicine. Additionally, they have created BioSpine, which is the world’s first adaptive learning biology degree.

“Our innovation mindset is what makes possible discoveries and leaps forward that make our communities better for all of us,” Arizona State President Micheal Crow said in a press release. “ASU is a place where new ideas are welcomed and encouraged; there is incredible power in an intentional culture of ‘Yes — give it a try. Let’s see what happens.’”

But Georgia State may be catching up to Arizona State’s technology curve with the opening of the Creative Media Industries Institute in 2017 and the beginning of Phase III of the Science Park

Along with the park will come the Next Generation Program, which will focus on artificial intelligence, quantum science and an “innovation hub” dedicated to increasing research in a wide range of subjects. 

According to a Georgia State press release, the program “will be dedicated to boosting the university’s reputation for pioneering, interdisciplinary research and scholarship.”

Similarly, Arizona State is taking steps to innovate in online teaching with the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. This offers full tuition reimbursement to Starbucks employees who pursue a degree through the university. 

The Arizona State Global Freshman Academy allows students to take online classes and decide after completion whether they want to pay for the credits.

Regardless of the types of programs these colleges offer, the focus is for the campus’s culture to be innovative, not necessarily for the organizations to be. 

“Innovation has become part of the culture at Georgia State, and we are extremely pleased that the higher education community across the country recognizes the work we are doing,” Becker said in a statement. “We are delighted, too, that our faculty has earned recognition for the deep commitment they have to providing our students with an extraordinary education.”

Johnson feels that the “innovative culture” helped change the university as a whole. 

“I’ve been going to this school since 2013, and the changes that they’ve made like the CMII and Pounce may not always be perfect, but I’m sure they’re helping students navigate campus,” she said. “There’s so much more to do [on campus] that makes [students] actually want to learn.”