Karen ScianI didn’t plan on staying in Waterloo after graduation.

It was a four-year plan, in and out, get the degree, then back home to Saskatoon.

But, as we all know, life likes to derail the best laid plans.

I liked it in Waterloo. I liked it so much that I raised a family, built a career, became a community advocate, launched a political career, started a business … I think I’m staying.

The young woman who arrived in 1986, after a cross-country trek in a Dodge Maverick, is a very different person than she is today. She has experienced moments of grand success, devastating loss, and everything in between. And along the way, she has continued to learn.

What have I learned?

That innovation is more than a buzz word. It’s a key value that percolates at the heart of UWaterloo and serves to influence an entire community. It’s a driving force, kick-starting an economy and putting our small community on the global stage.

Yet, innovation isn’t just about high-tech. It can’t be.

In the future Waterloo, innovation needs to push into our thinking about societal issues, envelop our community work, and influence every aspect of our daily lives.

Innovation must be on the table for every community discussion.

How do we look after those who need our help the most, in new ways? How do we transform our municipalities into responsive, accountable, and transparent organizations? How do we shift from a repressive patriarchy, into a community that leverages the powerful skills of women, newcomers and youth? How do we respond to emerging health care issues, in proactive ways, instead of reactive?

The challenges are endless and emerging.

Which calls for a future workforce, armed with a new set of competencies.

Listening. Empathy. Compassion.

Systems thinking. An awareness of unintended consequences. The ability to see the big picture and our roles and responsibilities in that big picture. A willingness to confront biases and assumptions, with an eye to moving forward. A connection to a greater purpose. A community purpose. A global purpose.

Big challenges. Who better than our UWaterloo graduates – past, present, and future - to tackle them?