While the word “innovation” — by definition “new and untested” — has been around in the corporate world for years, educational organizations have taken longer to embrace it.

“Higher education, as a pattern, has taken a long time to catch up to the needs of the culture and particularly young people,” says Barb Bellefeuille, Ed.D., vice president for academic services. “And so I hope that part of what we do is some quick catching up to what the culture and the students of today need, and also bring some fresh aspect to everything that we do.”

According to Dick Pfeil, entrepreneur and founder of the Pfeil Innovation Center, innovation is just as necessary in education as it is in industry, where consumers dictate which products succeed by what they purchase.

“Schools who innovate a better experience for their students thrive; while others fall by the wayside,” he says.

Bethel President Gregg Chenoweth, Ph.D., an ordained minister, looks at the theological basis for innovation through our Creator, God.

“The scripture … begins in Genesis 1, God created, and it was good, and it ends in Revelation where God intends to recreate a new heaven, a new earth, a new Jerusalem. The beginning and end of God’s story is to create.”

As part of a campus-wide innovation initiative to help make Bethel GREATer, for the greater glory of God, Bethel is sending 100 employees to Innovation Leadership Immersion at the Pfeil Innovation Center in South Bend. The intensive, two-day experience helps participants break from the status quo and explore how ideas begin. This training is made possible through a generous donation.

To date, 38 employees have attended training, including the entire Presidential Cabinet. The Pfeil Center staff will be on campus for a one-day faculty training session this fall.

The first project created from innovation training is called the Bethel Innovation Gateway — or BIG. It’s a concept — and a space — dedicated to exploring new ideas, encouraging innovative problem-solving and spurring creativity.

Located on the fourth floor of the Miller-Moore Academic Center, the large, open room is flooded with natural light.
Furnishings — from a cozy living-room area, to a conference table, to multi-level work stations — and light fixtures (including unique, Edison-inspired hanging bulbs) are designed to foster innovation.

“This new space speaks to our long-term commitment to make Bethel a place where we can be comfortable trying new things, eliminate the fear of failure, and embrace the messiness of innovation,” says Mike Nicholas, director of human resources.

Bethel has already demonstrated creative capacity through innovative projects and majors. Examples include the redesigned, responsive website (designed in-house), the app (created by IT staff) and an active learning classroom (a targeted project for Online Giving Day — see more at, as well as majors like the 3/2 engineering program (in partnership with the University of Notre Dame and Trine University), applied politics, financial services professional and worship arts.

For campus to embrace innovation, projects need to start from the ground up. Work groups are encouraged to utilize the BIG room, work cross-departmentally to spark fresh ideas, and submit projects to be considered for funding.

“Being a campus that not only looks for better processes and ideas, but encourages them, is what will move us forward,” says Stephanie Hochstetler ’05, associate director of traditional enrollment data management. (She attended the training at the Pfeil Center and helped to plan and furnish the BIG room.) “Knowing that we GET the opportunity to lead the way in advancing Christian higher education is pretty exciting.”