A Q & A with Dr. Krista Holmes on the evolution of Research and Innovation at George Brown College
We recently sat down with Dr. Krista Holmes, Associate Vice-President of Research and Innovation at George Brown to learn more about the college’s position in national research college rankings, the team’s evolution, and what to look forward to in 2024.
How does George Brown College compare to other research colleges in Canada?
Since 2012, when research rankings first included college programs, George Brown has been ranked among the top 50 research colleges in Canada. The national rankings published this week are two years retroactive, meaning they reflect our activities in 2021. A lot has changed since then.
We’ve had a stellar year in 2023, with almost $11 million of research grants awarded. We’re in a great position now with this new investment and a new structure to support our activities.
We are pleased to be included in the top 10 research colleges nationally in a number of categories, including ranking third for completed research projects, fifth for research partnerships and sixth for paid student researchers.
How did the pandemic impact our research activities?
Like all areas across the college, we were forced to take a pause. For Research and Innovation, this provided an opportunity to level-set and figure out what our goals and priorities would be through the pandemic and into the future in a post-pandemic world.
In 2020 and 2021, we reopened some of our key programs quickly. Our Food Innovation and Research Studio (FIRSt), for example, was back on site in the summer of 2020, but all of our programs were operating at a very reduced capacity. It was only in September of 2022 that we were able to pick up momentum and start getting closer to 100 per cent capacity.
We took intentional time between 2020 and 2022 to course-correct areas that weren't performing optimally and refocus on our vision and priorities. We restructured into three main areas of expertise: product development, future living, and social innovation.
In product development, we work on advanced manufacturing and prototyping, and we have a lot of activity in food and beverage innovation. A new emerging area of growth for us is textile and garment innovation and manufacturing.
In future living, we focus on built and virtual environments, including physical construction, life-centred design and interactive design. We’re growing our digital transformation offerings to include artificial intelligence, blockchain, virtual reality, and extended reality.
In social innovation, we work with not-for-profit partners on community-based research and innovation activities that have a direct impact on improving the welfare and well-being of people and communities.
Across all three areas, our research teams are working on themes that are directly relevant to all of us living in society today — prioritizing equity, diversity, and inclusion and preparing students, researchers and partners to thrive in a dynamic, interconnected and just world.
How do you measure success?
The primary category we are ranked on is research income, which is the number of dollars that come into the college that support research and innovation activities. While that's an important number, and we can't run any of our projects without research income, it's not the best quality measure because it doesn't tell us anything about the impact of our research and innovation activities.
A key way we measure the success of our programs is around student experience — the number of students involved in research and innovation opportunities and experiences in the classroom and beyond. We also pay particular attention to the number of paid student research internships offered each year. George Brown consistently performs well in these categories.
Another important measure of the success and impact of our programs is the volume of research partners, projects, and tangible outputs we support annually. The number of prototypes, new services, and products developed each year shows our programs perform well and support our clients effectively.
What’s unique about our approach to research and innovation?
We work with a wide range of partners: startups right up to multinational companies and community-based and not-for-profit organizations. Most of our partners are small and medium enterprises with 10 employees or less, and they come from all different sectors.
Sometimes partners are pleasantly surprised that we can help with multiple facets of their research and innovation challenge rather than just one. We might have a small partner who wants to refine a recipe for a food product to bring to market. We can also help them develop the mould for manufacturing that product as well as the packaging and product design so that they are fully supported for their launch and to scale their activities over time.
What makes our programs so unique is both the breadth of what we can offer in terms of subject matter expertise and our people. Our people are amazing. They approach projects with enthusiasm and energy and a willingness to approach challenges in creative and unexpected ways that lead to really impressive solutions.
What can we expect from Research and Innovation in 2024?
2023 has been a really exceptional year for grants awarded to the college. We're going to use the funding to continue to maintain the high level of quality and service that we currently deliver in our research and innovation programs. We will also explore new areas for growth, focusing on alignment with our academic programs and cultivating the talent at George Brown to deliver research and innovation opportunities and have an impact on the sectors and communities we serve.
I've been working at the college for five and a half years, and I have never had a week that looked the same. We work on new projects and with new partners all the time, and it’s exciting to help develop new ideas and solutions. We’re looking forward to the new challenges and opportunities that 2024 will bring.