Hamline News

Pipers Follow in the Footsteps of an Innovative Alum


Innovation is a critical skill that companies and businesses are hiring for today, and the new INTD 3900 Innovation interdisciplinary course is helping Hamline undergraduates develop that sought-after skill for any discipline or field. The breakthrough course is the brainchild of alumnus Roger Appeldorn ’57, a renowned innovator at 3M who was elected to the 3M Carlton Society (their Hall of Fame) with 35 patents to his name. This is the only known example in the country of a course which explores the entire process of innovation and it enables students one-on-one access to innovators at corporations across the Twin Cities.

“Businesses are looking for people who can innovate. They want people who can not only come up with original ideas, but who can successfully launch those ideas and put the ideas into action,” Mr. Appeldorn has said.

With hands-on experience covering the principles and best practices associated with the innovation process, students learn how to think critically with an innovative mindset. In addition, the class includes interactive sessions with accomplished innovators combined with field trips to local corporations to enhance the learning experience.

“The most valuable aspect of this course for me was being able to listen to the various speakers,” said Hamline junior Mohamed Mohamed who previously took the course. “It is rare as an undergraduate to interact with people who have had lasting impact on our society. To be able to ask these individuals questions and hear about their story was an invaluable experience.”

Roger ’57 and Marilyn ’58 Appeldorn provided the inspiration and funding for this new effort through the Appeldorn Family Endowed Fund for Innovation Studies at Hamline. Appeldorn worked collaboratively with Bruce Bolon, associate professor and chair of the Physics Department, to develop the course with the focus on creating an immersive experience for students across all disciplines.

“The course is meant to prepare students for the workplace regardless of their major or field of study,” Professor Bolon said. “They are taught to recognize the hallmarks of a business or organization where innovation can thrive, and if those qualities don’t exist yet, they have the tools to transform the culture.”

Students initially work on their own idea for a unique product or solution to a problem. Then, they are put into groups in which the top ideas are developed further through a collaborative process. Students discover what role on a team best suits their individual strengths, and learn how to work with people with different backgrounds and strengths. Together, they develop, write, and present a plan, which takes into consideration systems thinking, market analysis, financial planning, risk management, and intellectual property.

“This course opened my eyes to the benefits of being an innovative thinker and it helped to provide information for becoming a more innovative thinker,” said senior Ela Engen. “The class made me more aware of how I was doing things and always to look for better ways.”

At the end of the course, student teams present their final projects to the 18 or so professionals who, along with their professors, have mentored them along the way so they can get real-world feedback.

“There is so much that students take away from this course, but one key thing we want them to remember is that they should not be afraid to fail,” said Lifeng Dong, professor and the Emma K. and Carl R. N. Malmstrom Endowed Chair in Physics. “Failure and perseverance were a major part of the process for anyone who ever came up with an idea or product that is considered innovative.”