Leap Day

February 29, 2016

February 29 comes around only once every four years*, and in the spirit of “Leap Day” I am thinking about the innovative work across our university community that allows Yale—and the world—to take great leaps forward. Later this morning I will be joining Governor Malloy, Mayor Harp, and other dignitaries for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the new home of Alexion, a Yale- and New Haven-born and bred enterprise that is transforming the lives of patients suffering from rare diseases.

Innovation, if you look around you, is everywhere on our campus: students work together across disciplinary boundaries on fascinating projects supported by the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, where a professor of French literature and her students translate Emile Zola’s words into three dimensions and a mechanical engineering class’s project leads to improvements in vaccination delivery in India. In the Yale School of Management’s Program on Entrepreneurship, short-form “Tuna Tank” classes—a playful riff on a popular reality show about entrepreneurial ventures—are open to anyone at Yale interested in learning and perfecting the art of the pitch. And through the Center for Biomedical and Interventional Technology, innovation hackathons show how much it is possible to achieve in a short space of time. At the most recent iteration last month, in conjunction with the Yale-New Haven Health System, people from all across campus and the region, and as far away as Zurich—from pre-teenagers to retirees—braved a snowy weekend to identify “pain points” in health care and develop solutions to them.

Of course, these are just a few examples taken at random; in every corner of our campus creative ideas are being generated and explored all the time. But all of them, and so many others I could write about, illustrate another hallmark of innovation that to me is key. Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation. It is a community endeavor and a shared mindset, something that all of us—whether deliberately or subconsciously, in our classrooms and offices, our labs and studios and beyond—can cultivate every day, “leap” or otherwise.

*Or so I thought, until I learned that every so often there is an exception in the leap year cycle that went into effect with the Gregorian calendar in 1582: in century years (e.g., 1900) that are not evenly divisible by 400, a regular year is observed in place of leap year.