Inventiveness is nothing new for UCCS’ Director of Innovation, Benjamin Kwitek. Since 2017, first with teaching and now with leadership, he has been expanding UCCS’ Bachelor of Innovation (BI) program into a groundbreaking educational experience built around entrepreneurship, self-sufficiency and resourcefulness.
Over the last two years, he has secured two noteworthy grants and threaded his inspirational philosophies on success and failure into this special family of degrees.
Before Kwitek brought his unique skill set to UCCS, he spent years as an inventor. Kwitek was the mind behind patents for various products, including a soft, ergonomic pen grip – licensed by Pilot, Pentel, and other pen companies – and haptic improvements for consumer electronic devices licensed by Dell, Sony, and Lenovo. But he is quick to admit that some of his inventions were flops, including the first version of his grip – developed for golf clubs.
“It basically failed in the market because I didn’t understand what the customer really wanted,” Kwitek says. “But after a lot of rejection, I came up with a different grip for pens which ended up selling more than 100 million units.”
With many winning inventions now under his belt, Kwitek didn’t come to UCCS for fortune or fame. He simply wants to teach students how to think differently, especially when it comes to defining achievement.
“[Teaching] is interesting to me, not because of time and money, but because it has a big impact.” Kwitek explains. “One thing I like to tell students is: ‘Failure is the key ingredient in success.You don’t get success without trying a lot of things and failing.’”
This notion is hardwired directly into UCCS’ groundbreaking Bachelor of Innovation program, which uses an interdisciplinary model to intersect different areas of study related to innovation. Students who are interested in everything from business and art to science and game design are able to delve into a breadth of subjects, all united under one entrepreneurial banner.
“Amazing things happen when you combine people from different disciplines,” Kwitek says. “It provides insights that you wouldn’t ordinarily expect.”
As director, Kwitek is ensuring his students are getting the most out of the BI program. Part of this comes down to the program’s faculty, who bring real-world experience and skills into the classroom. Because of this, the BI program favors experiential learning to standard textbook education.
Getting out of “comfort zones” and experiencing more is something Kwitek imparts on his fellow staffers and students through practice. Over the last two years, Kwitek has been traveling the globe, giving talks about the power of innovation as part of the US State Department’s GIST (Global Innovation Through Science and Tech) Initiative.
These speeches eventually led Kwitek to secure a grant to host the GIST Visiting Global Entrepreneur Program at UCCS. From October to November 2019, five leading entrepreneurs and innovators hailing from Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Algeria, and Ecuador visited Colorado Springs and the UCCS campus, soaking up knowledge and culture.
“The concept behind it was: Americans are good at entrepreneurship,” Kwitek explains. “So, if we could go to countries where there is high unemployment and maybe even some Anti-American sentiment, and talk to them about starting a business and pursuing ideas, that would be a good form of diplomacy.”
Kwitek has since followed up this diplomatic endeavor by securing a grant that will go toward increasing civics literacy among CU students. By teaching students more about the government and how it works, they are more likely to participate in essential political events, like voting. But for Kwitek, this grant also promotes innovation through the concept of intellectual property.
“The pursuit of happiness equates to property in many ways,” Kwitek notes. “But the founding fathers also appreciated the works of the mind, otherwise intellectual property, and said that the government should protect inventive and creative work through patents and copyrights. My proposal was that we can teach students more about getting patents as part of the American dream.”
Kwitek and his team will put this newfound grant money toward module learning courses in government and innovation. Soon, Kwitek hopes to host another round of visiting entrepreneurs. Most importantly, he’s looking forward to working with more students and potentially investing in their ideas.
“I’m always excited to meet the next group of students because you never know who’s in the classroom,” Kwitek says.
And for anyone who has aspirations of innovation, Kwitek has one thing to say: “You have knowledge and thoughts and insights that no one else does. No one is built like you. We need people like you, because the world has a lot of problems. We need you to find solutions. And the best is yet to come.”
Find out more about the world’s only Bachelor of Innovation program on the UCCS website.