Overheard

ASU+GSV Summit 2021: Bridget Burns on the opportunity for transformational change

Leaders in education and tech leaders share innovative ideas about what's to come
By Laura Aka
August 11, 2021

University Innovation Alliance is a national coalition of public research universities committed to increasing the number and diversity of college graduates in the U.S.

“Innovation and my institutions have united around a sense of urgency that they wanted to do a better job helping students graduate specifically from low-income, first-generation, and students of color backgrounds,” says Bridget Burns, executive director of the organization.

She adds, “We wanted to do it together because they were all working on these issues and they wanted to not waste time, energy, and money by working alone. We innovate together. We scale up what works and we diffuse what we learned to the world in hopes to galvanize transformation in the sector.”

Burns does note that the events of 2020 have been eye-opening. “We’ve always been on the journey to improve our institutions and make them more student-centered. And I think that this past year really made it clear just how ‘un’ student centered institutions were.”

That realization has led institutions to be more authentic. Burns says, “I also think people dropped the kind of fancy complex that higher ed can often have.”

She continues, “I think that if you really want to help universities make transformational change, they have to start by admitting they don’t have it right. Institutions can’t pretend, cannot BS your way, and say that you have it all figured out, and you knew how to do digital learning.”

“’Yes, we’ve done virtual zoom, professional engagement, and we’ve run virtual teams.’ No, we didn’t know any of those things. The vulnerability required to navigate the last year meant that institutions were more honest about what they were struggling with. I think that means that we have far greater opportunity for transformational change. If we can admit we all have the same problems, then we don’t have to all go it alone and can work together to truly achieve the kind of change necessary for the future of our democracy.”

Click here to learn more about University Innovation Alliance.

WorkingNation—a collaborating partner of the ASU+GSV Summit—sat down with Burns in San Diego as part of our #WorkingNationOverheard social media series.

Hear from more innovators in education and tech in the public, private, and nonprofit spheres attending the ASU+GSV Summit 2021 here.

Follow the conversation on social media: #asugsvsummit #workingnationoverheard