Experts Discuss Opportunities and Challenges in Developing Inland California’s Innovation Economy

UC Riverside hosts Council on Competitiveness ‘Exploring Innovation Frontiers Initiative’

Attendees at the event

Participants in the Council of Competitiveness ‘Exploring Innovation Frontiers Initiative,’ held at UCR on Nov. 23. Carrie Rosema

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — Securing the economic future of inland Southern California will involve building a diverse innovation ecosystem that starts with attracting more women and minorities into science and engineering disciplines, according to experts who attended a high-level discussion at the University of California, Riverside on Monday.

The dialogue was part of the Council on Competitiveness ‘Exploring Innovation Frontiers Initiative’ (EIFI), which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and brings together experts from the public and private sectors to enhance U.S. competitiveness in a global economy. A focus of the discussion was how to leverage the ideas, opinions and talents of people who have been historically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Attendees at the event

Left to right: Michael van Ter Sluis, vice president, Council on Competitiveness; Michael Pazzani, vice chancellor for research, UCR; Pramod Khargonekar, assistant director -Directorate of Engineering, National Science Foundation; Deborah Wince-Smith, president and CEO, Council on Competitiveness; Kim Wilcox, chancellor, UCR; Chad Evans, executive vice president, Council on Competitiveness; Grace Wang, deputy assistant director, National Science Foundation. Carrie Rosema

“As our country becomes much more ethnically diverse, there is a growing concern that we are not representing the full spectrum of our population in the innovation system, in particular in the STEM enterprise, and how this will impact the talent pipeline,” Deborah Wince-Smith, president and CEO of the Council on Competitiveness, said in her welcome remarks.

UC Riverside was chosen to host the dialogue because of its success in embracing and leveraging diversity to boost innovation and improve student outcomes. In U.S. News & World Report’s latest rankings, UCR is tied 7th in the nation for diversity, and the university is 25th in the U.S. for citations in Science and Nature magazines.

“UCR combines a tremendously diverse student community with a rich history of innovative research and we are very proud of that,” Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox said.

Highlighting one of UCR’s most creative educational initiatives, Susan Wessler, distinguished professor of genetics and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, shared in her keynote speech how the ‘Dynamic Genome’ program is helping attract and retain students into biology and related fields. Wessler said she developed the program, which engages students in cutting-edge scientific research in their freshman year, as an alternative to tedious introductory science lectures, which may be a turn off to students.

Held at UCR’s Culver Center in downtown Riverside, the EIFI dialogue was attended by 40 leaders from academia, industry, government and nonprofit entities across the United States. Several UCR undergraduates and graduate students shared their journeys to becoming STEM majors, including the support they’d received and challenges they faced.

Panel sessions throughout the day stimulated discussions on how to increase diversity in STEM fields; successes and challenges in developing innovation clusters across the nation; preparing people to thrive in an enterprise economy; and how to offset negative perceptions about innovation.

A common thread in the discussions was the need to support underrepresented students during their K-12 educations through mentors, community advocates and experiential learning opportunities. That support would then need to continue through higher education—perhaps using a model similar to the one developed at UCR.

Paulette Brown-Hinds, publisher of The Voice, speaking at the event.

Paulette Brown-Hinds, publisher of The Voice, speaking at the event. Carrie Rosema

“As a UCR graduate, it’s clear to me that diversity at UCR didn’t happen by chance,” said Paulette Brown-Hinds, publisher of The Voice. “I think we should look at what the university is doing, not only in terms of student diversity, but also in the faculty, and try to replicate that,” she said.

Launched at Georgia Tech in June, the EIFI program comprises four high-level dialogues over 24 months. The Riverside dialogue is the second in the series, with future events planned in other regions that leading transformational economic changes in the United States.

EIFI will make the discussion findings available for future research in innovation, to inform future business models, and to provide the foundations for public policies that create a supportive environment for sustained innovation-driven growth.

The Council on Competitiveness is a non-partisan and non-governmental organization, made up of corporate CEOs, university presidents, labor leaders and directors of national laboratories committed to the creation of high-value economic activity in the United States.  Learn more about the Council here or view the full list of publications here.

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