GREEN BAY—Susan Gallagher-Lepak’s work—expanding opportunities for students and facilitating innovation in the UW-Green Bay community—makes her a 2021 WiSys Innovation Champion.
The WiSys award recognizes UW System leaders, faculty, staff, students or community partners who have played an integral role in building a culture of innovation at a UW System regional institution.
ADVOCATE FOR STUDENT INNOVATION
Even before becoming UW-Green Bay’s Dean of the College of Health, Education and Social Welfare, Gallagher-Lepak found ways to be a leader in advocating for students and expanding their educational experience. While serving as an assistant professor, she became connected with WiSys and quickly became a strong promoter of WiSys’ services among her colleagues.
“I’ve always wanted to push for more innovation on campus, regardless of my role,” she said. “As dean, it’s been really important to me to think about innovation and have students gain innovation and entrepreneurial skills across campus.”
She has been glad to see WiSys increase its opportunities for students in the past several years and credited WiSys President Arjun Sanga for his eagerness on that front. She touted the grant opportunities, student competitions and the WiSys Ambassador program, which employs students to be liaisons to campus innovation communities, as strong additions for students.
“It was Susan that led us down that path. She got us at WiSys to think differently about our role on the campuses we serve,” said Sanga. “Most technology transfer organizations like WiSys have traditionally focused on supporting innovative faculty, working to commercialize their inventions and discoveries. Susan’s insights led us to put students front and center in our work not only at UW-Green Bay but in the entire UW System.”
WiSys’ focus on students has been a major reason for the organization’s successes in recent years, Sanga said. Today, one-third of all inventions submitted to WiSys for intellectual property protection and commercialization come from students and hundreds of students participate in WiSys research, innovation and entrepreneurship events annually.
“So many students have great ideas that they want to explore,” Gallagher-Lepak said. “WiSys has built out in a really amazing way and I’m really proud to be a part of that programming on campus.”
‘INNOVATION IN AGING’ FOUNDER
Gallagher-Lepak has done some building of her own. She helped to create the WiSys Innovation in Aging student idea contest at UW-Green Bay in 2017.
The event challenges students to examine the issues and barriers faced by aging adults and offer creative solutions to provide better quality of life for them. More than 100 students have participated in the event. In addition to the opportunity to win prize money, students grow idea development, collaboration and public presentation skills.
“Susan’s leadership has been a big reason for the success of Innovation in Aging,” said WiSys Regional Associate Brad Ricker, who worked with Gallagher-Lepak and other faculty and staff at UW-Green Bay to organize the most recent iteration of the innovation event. “Her eagerness to roll up her sleeves and do work that ultimately benefits the students of UW-Green Bay is inspiring. She is a strong advocate for her institution and its students.”
One important aspect of Innovation in Aging has been to encourage students from all different majors and programs to participate in the competition. Gallagher-Lepak has been looking into ways to expand that interest even more, including seeking feedback from campus leaders for future growth of the competition.
“We’re always trying to refine the recipe and think about new pathways and experiences for students,” she said. “We’re not interested in the status quo.” The end goal, Gallagher-Lepak said, is to “create unique, hands-on transforming experiences for students.”
Aside from Innovation in Aging, Gallagher-Lepak is involved in other enrichment activities on campus, such as inviting professional speakers and courting local community partners for collaboration. Gallagher-Lepak said she sees her work not as an innovator but as someone who has helped facilitate innovation among the campus community.
“If anything, what I’ve done is be an innovation catalyst on our campus,” she said. “It’s been exciting to work with WiSys and I value what WiSys brings to our campus.”
Story by Craig Sauer
WiSys | Marketing & Communications Associate
WiSys is a nonprofit organization that works with faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the UW System to facilitate cutting-edge research programs, develop and commercialize discoveries and foster a spirit of innovative and entrepreneurial thinking across the state.