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UCI Searching for Next Big Idea

A collaboration between the Chancellor’s office and all UCI deans has yielded UCI’s next fundraising campaign, the Big Ideas Challenge. The plan was based off  of a campaign from UC Davis, which involved faculty, but UCI will be the first to directly involve students in the campaign process. Only a handful of universities have attempted a campaign involving all their campus stakeholders faculty, students and staff.

Speaking of the administrative  campaign preparation, Karen T. Isble, the associate vice chancellor of University Advancement, said, “That’s a relatively small number of folks that are focusing at the high level of what they see they need for each of their schools, or other key parts of the university student services and things of that nature. What we wanted to do as part of thinking about UCI’s next big fundraising campaign was getting more input from across campus.”

The Big Ideas Challenge will require participants to align their idea with the UCI strategic plan, a set of specific goals laid out by university administrators as guideposts to broadly define the path administration wishes to take in improving UCI as an institution. The Big Ideas Challenge will allow students, faculty and staff to contribute to the improvement process through the creation of an idea which aligns with the goals of the strategic plan and showcase areas in which UCI is emerging as a leader. On the Big Ideas website, a link to the strategic plan will be provided so students can read it and put their projects into the context of the strategic plan.

Participants are encouraged to use multi-disciplinary and multi-organizational approaches to their ideas and collaborate with not only with campus organizations, faculty, staff and students across all schools, but also with non-profit organizations outside of UCI.

“Not all the great ideas might come out of school leadership,” said Isbel. “So we wanted to give an opportunity for the community if they’re interested, if they’ve got an idea that would take UCI to the next level.”

“When we introduced UCI’s strategic plan, which sets out a bold road map for UCI’s growth, we knew it was vital to involve the entire university community in the goal-setting process,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman in a letter to students Feb. 1.

“As we’re thinking about things that will go into the Big Ideas Challenge, we are looking for things that will have a relatively immediate impact,” said Isbel.  Although there is not a specific time limit for the project, projects should feasibly be completed in a reasonable amount of time, so there can be room to support more than one project during the campaign. “This is not a project that takes twenty years,” Isble said.

“Why do we want to do this now, why is it important what’s happening around the world, what’s happening on campus, what’s happening in California whatever it may be that makes it important for this project to be adopted now.”

Winners of the Big Ideas Challenge will have their idea featured as a main component of the fundraising campaign there will be an overall winner and two runner ups. Proposals will be reviewed first by a panel of students, staff and faculty judges, based on the criteria outlined on the Big Ideas website. Ultimately, final proposals will be reviewed by the Chancellor himself to determine the three winning ideas that will be featured in the fundraising campaign.    The Department of University Advancement will review each idea and compile them into a catalog of potential future funding opportunities for the duration of the campaign. According to Isble, this list could be referred to when further into the campaign, especially if a potential donor is passionate about a certain cause covered by one of the finalist Big Ideas.

“This doesn’t guarantee that any of them will get picked up in the future, but at least we’ll have that when it’s time to do some more brainstorming,” said Isble. The Big Ideas created throughout the contest will be added to the catalogue of ideas the UCI deans have already planned to implement in higher levels of university planning.

The campaign will focus on bringing more private donors to the university to cushion against state budget cuts that  continue to slash funding for higher education institutions.

“A campaign is really just to take the work that we do as fundraisers day to day and year to year, and put it under this umbrella that creates a sense of excitement and urgency, and messaging around ‘Why now, and why UCI?’ It won’t necessarily change the way we fundraise, but it will give us an exciting script to work from that is a single voice under one campaign,” said Isble. The Big Idea Challenge is a chance for the university to broaden the scope of ideas to present to potential donors.

UCI’s previous fundraising campaign, the Shape the Future campaign, successfully raised $1 billion to support student and faculty research, improve student programs and services and fund 500 scholarships and grants, including the prestigious Dalai Lama Scholarship.

Isble emphasized the excitement she feels at the “grand experiment” UCI is embarking on with the Big Ideas Challenge.

“What that gives is ownership and pride. It brings everyone to the table, so creating that sort of  awareness; a sense that this is not University Advancement’s campaign, this is not the Chancellor’s campaign, this is the whole university’s campaign.”