By Elizabeth Casillas, Mar. 16, 2021
Olukemi Sawyerr has spent the past two decades helping the Cal Poly Pomona community by building relationships with students that empower them to develop their skills and industry experience. Given this history, it comes as no surprise that this year she was appointed as associate vice president for academic innovation in January.
In her new role, Sawyerr now oversees the Office of Academic Innovation, which coordinates with the Center for Community Engagement, Kellogg Honors College, Office of Undergraduate Research and the Student Innovation Idea Labs.
“Part of my goal is to make us a functioning collaborative team. When people haven’t worked together before, I think it takes little bit of time,” said Sawyerr.
These programs help students build a community at CPP and keep them engaged with the campus throughout their college careers.
Sawyerr received her bachelor’s degree and MBA from Texas Women’s University and a doctorate from the University of North Texas.
She joined the university as an assistant professor in the Management and Human Resources Department in the College of Business Administration in 2002. Since then, she has served as the inaugural director of the Student Innovation Lab, and in 2018 was appointed interim associate vice president for academic innovation.
“I basically started that office from scratch,” said Sawyerr. “The Office of Academic Innovation did not exist before then, so I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to be innovative and creative in putting the office together and kind of deciding which direction the office will go to support Cal Poly Pomona’s strategic mission.”
Sawyerr also helped create the Learn Through Discovery Initiative what it is today, mapping out how the program would provide a unique educational experience to students by giving them hands-on experience in their field.
She hopes that these programs help students develop into competitive applicants in the job market, and she also hopes they learn valuable skills to practice in their industry.
“That is an awesome experience to have as a student. You’re not just doing this in a classroom and learning something theoretical that you go apply later, but by the time you graduate you’ve had experience,” said Sawyerr. “That makes you a much more valued professional.”
She has also been involved in co-curricular programs which provide students a hands-on approach to their curriculum.
Among these programs is ESTEAM or Entrepreneurship in STEAM. This startup company run by CPP business and engineering majors on campus offers students insight in creating a project and pushing it into the marketplace.
“We realized we wanted to provide our students a learn by doing opportunity. We wanted to bring business students and give them the opportunity to actually start a business and bring engineering students and provide them the entrepreneurial training,” said Sawyerr.
Entrepreneurship in Steam is held throughout the school year with the students working with prototypes at the beginning of the school year and pivoting to work on marketing and selling their innovative technology near the end.
“My desire, and my goal, is that no student graduates from Cal Poly Pomona without having had a hands-on experience,” said Sawyerr. “Most students come to this campus because of that, so I believe we owe it to them to make sure that they have multiple opportunities to learn by doing.”
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