Business leaders from across the Quad-Cities’ community and Midwest took part Thursday in an Innovation Summit at St. Ambrose University.
University President Dr. Amy Novak said the goal of the event was to gather ideas from industry leaders on ways the school can better prepare SAU students for future employment through fresh teaching practices.
More than 120 business leaders attended, including those from Deere & Company, Arconic, the Rock Island Arsenal, Modern Woodmen, Lee Enterprises, Quad City Bank and Trust, Genesis Health System, Unity Point-Trinity and regional companies such as Caterpillar in Peoria and Lenovo-Motorola in Chicago.
Attendees were gathered into small groups and asked what the future of education looks like and how the university can better address those needs.
“The exercise was, what does critical thinking look like in your business or industry and when was that demonstrated?” Novak said. “It was a wonderful opportunity for us to hear the trends and what I call the human skills — those essential ingredients that we need to work more intentionally at integrating relevant application into higher education’s overall learning experience.”
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Novak said many attendees expressed the need for students to understand emerging technology trends and how to use them in today’s market.
“We also had a robust discussion around sustainability and practices related to sustainability in organizations,” she said.
Novak said another discussion focused on the idea of a “learning-and-earning” model in which a student attends school but also works part-time in that business or industry, yet is able to apply work hours toward credits needed to graduate. She called it “stackable credentials” that would prepare the student’s overall readiness as they enter the workforce.
Laura “Divot” Ekizian, president of Quad City Bank & Trust, served as co-chair of the Innovation Summit. Ekizian said she was impressed with the turnout and feedback received from participants.
“Now St. Ambrose will take the information the business community shared with them and will put it in the classroom to create the kind of programming we talked about today,” she said. “I get the sense that (Novak) is very much action-oriented and this summit will become part of her operating plan. I think the business leaders who were in the room saw that energy.
“I trust there will be some foundational changes to help students come out of St. Ambrose prepared for our work environments. There was an energy that could happen. It was time well spent.”
Mike Oberhaus, the interim CEO of the Quad Cities Chamber and chief strategy officer, commended SAU and Novak for “gathering the voice of business and learning from the voice of business on what is important to help them have a workforce that helps them be successful both now and into the future.”
“Those conversations and partnering are critical to long-term success for employers in the region,” Oberhaus said. “What I heard today is that change is inevitable, innovation is needed and we need to prepare our young people for that constant change.”
Business school named in honor of former graduate after generous donation
Following the summit, Novak hosted a ceremony naming SAU’s business school as the Patricia VanBruwaene College of Business.
VanBruwaene graduated from SAU with her Bachelor of Arts in business administration in 1974, and a Master of Business Administration degree in 1984. She went on to have a career with Deere & Company as a manager of pensions and benefits.
VanBruwaene died on Nov. 2, 2021. Through her estate, she bequeathed a multi-million dollar donation, the largest gift in the university’s history. SAU is not disclosing the amount at this time.
“(VanBruwaene) made a difference at Deere & Company and impacted their employees,” said Maritza Espina, dean of the college of business. “Now her legacy will transform generations to come here at St. Ambrose.”
VanBruwaene became the first female president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and worked with government leaders and legislators to ensure the completion of John Deere Road.
She also was a founding member of the Quad Cities Travel and Visitors Bureau, earned the 1994 Rotary Club Golden Book of Good Deeds for community service and was a longtime volunteer for the John Deere Classic.