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Yale innovative-thinking center headed by medical school professor

Medicine@Yale, 2017 - Nov Dec


A School of Medicine professor is the inaugural faculty director of the recently opened Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (Tsai CITY), where trainees in numerous Yale disciplines are invited to network, interact, and exchange ideas. Peter G. Schulam, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of urology, hopes that Tsai CITY will inspire members of Yale’s health community to think about problems and opportunities in unprecedented ways.

“There’s an opportunity to create relationships based on innovation amongst the entire university bridging relationships between the various schools and leveraging their unique expertise and perspectives,” says Schulam. “Linking the medical school, the medical center, and the [Yale Medicine] health system to this process will provide a unique opportunity for innovation in health care delivery. At many institutions the medical school is a little bit isolated and separated. I think this is going to be another dimension of collaboration that will be unique for Yale.”

Schulam says President Peter Salovey, Ph.D. ’86, and Provost Ben Polak recruited him for his role in Tsai CITY because the university’s Center for Biomedical and Interventional Technology (CBIT), which he co-founded with W. Mark Saltzman, Ph.D., the Goizueta Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering and professor of chemical engineering and of molecular physiology, has already been a successful catalyst for innovation. He says imagination also has flourished in many other pockets within the university. “People ask, ‘How innovative is Yale?’ Yale is very innovative, and there are a lot of innovative efforts,” Schulam notes. “There are many successful innovative efforts on the campus but they did not share a common portal. By creating a foundation for innovative efforts there will be increased networking and improved visibility for all the programs.”

According to Schulam, success will not be measured by the number of entrepreneurial ventures Tsai CITY spawns. While startups are desirable, Schulam says, how many participants the center attracts and the variety of disciplines they represent will mean more. “That level of connectivity, that level of interaction, that level of networking, that level of collegiality, is what we are hoping to create,” he says. “And what will be the results of that? It is difficult to predict but we are hopeful this center will enhance the impact Yale students have in their future careers by broadening how they approach problem solving.”

Tsai CITY’s executive director is Andrew McLaughlin, whose prior roles include deputy chief technology officer of the United States in the Obama White House, CEO and executive chair of Digg, and senior fellow at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. The center’s current home is at 254 Elm Street. Construction of a permanent location on Becton Plaza on Yale’s main campus should be completed in 2019.

A large grant from the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation has provided funding to create and build Tsai CITY. Joseph C. Tsai, B.A. ’86, J.D. ’90, says it is a way to pay tribute to the formative role that innovative thinking has played in his own life, which includes co-founding and serving as executive chair of the global e-commerce company Alibaba. Tsai’s prior contributions to Yale include the law school’s Paul Tsai China Center, named for his father; and gifts to the Department of Computer Science and to Yale Athletics, particularly the men’s and women’s lacrosse programs.

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