Promoting and enhancing use of bicycles on campus through the Fix It and Go! program funded in 2013 has had lasting impact.

The Benefits of Innovation

Ten years of community ideas and innovation grants leave their mark

Deborah Dudley

Over the last decade, with thanks to the University leadership’s trust in the ideas of the Laurentian community, the Innovation Grants program has funded over 70 projects, granting $500,000 to improve the quality of campus life through new and inspired initiatives. Each grant proposal reflected both the perpetual and the evolving values of St. Lawrence students, faculty, and staff. Most projects have had team collaborators, often between students and employees. 

The program was begun early in President Emeritus William L. Fox’s tenure, initially supported in 2010 through a grant from the Mellon Foundation, which often provides grants to new presidents to encourage unique initiatives. Instead of spearheading the initiatives himself, Fox had other plans. 

“President Fox recognized a founding principle of St. Lawrence—the inherent value of each person—when he established the Innovation Grants program in 2010,” says Lisa Cania, vice president for Community & Employee Relations, who has managed the grant committee for the past 10 years. “He felt that the best ideas, the ones that would be appreciated most highly by the community, would come from members of the community itself. Inviting ideas from everyone, and funding projects suggested by students, faculty, and staff, exemplifies our regard for one another and our shared belief in St. Lawrence.”

This year, the Innovation Grants program concluded its 10-year work by selecting five proposals from among the 10 submitted for the final competition, including a campus disc golf course to foster community recreation; the “Pole Liberation Project” to provide safe spaces for freedom of expression; the continuation of the Radical Self-care Series which looks at health and wellness from a more inclusive lens; the “WE ARE…” Project empowering Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students to expand the Laurentian community; and Wellness Zones securing space for meditation, prayer, and other stress-reducing resources for students in the aftermath of a tumultuous year. 

Any one of these projects may take root in the campus just as previous projects have. Intergroup Dialogue, which has grown into a multidisciplinary resource for campus conversations, began through an Innovation Grant, as did the First-Year Convocation, which was started in 2010 to jump-start community building and has become an annual event held after classes have begun. Management 101 is now in its 10th year of training sessions sponsored by Human Resources focused on topics instrumental to enabling managers to be more successful. Fix It and Go!, started in 2013, continues to promote and enhance the cycling experience for the entire St. Lawrence community by providing two self-contained outdoor repair stands, and the 2016 grant to fund the SLU Cyber-Café played a critical role in the emergence of eSports, which was recently added as a varsity team sport for the Saints athletics program. 

Even the physical landscape of the campus has been affected by grants such as the St. Lawrence Sitting Stones Project awarded in 2016, which funded the landscaping of the rock terraces above the newly reconstructed Richard F. Brush ’52 University Quad and the strategic addition of sitting stones outside of the Sullivan Student Center. These multilevel sitting stones have transformed these locations into functional gathering spaces for informal interactions, outdoor classrooms, and relaxation. By creating an inviting natural environment, the community is connected and a deep sense of place is reinforced. 

Whether physical, intellectual, or emotional, the impact of 10 years of Innovation Grants continues to leave their mark on generations of Laurentians.