A portrait photo of Lisa Camp

5 questions with… engineering school innovator Lisa Camp

Lisa Camp is a driving force behind innovation at Case Western Reserve, and now she’s taking it to the national level. As associate dean for strategic initiatives at the Case School of Engineering, Camp is charged with working on complex special projects that bring together multiple disciplines as well as external and internal partners.

Recently selected to MetroLab Network’s nine-person executive steering committee, Camp will be a key player in propelling innovation forward throughout the country.

The MetroLab Network, launched in September 2015 as part of the White House’s Smart Cities Initiative, is a coalition of universities and cities aimed at driving urban innovation—bridging the gap between research and deployment. Projects tackle anything from transportation infrastructure to health and public safety.

“One of the benefits of being on a steering committee like this when it first starts out is that you can help figure out where the path is going,” Camp said. “We’re working with our researchers, our staff and our faculty to make sure that what we’re doing is embedded in that.”

Camp has plenty of experience when it comes to leading and guiding major projects from their infancy.

In the past 12 months, Lisa Camp has spearheaded two high-profile, high-energy and highly complex projects: bringing former MythBusters host Adam Savage to campus earlier this year and coordinating the three-day Innovation Summit in October 2015.

Along with Chief Innovation Officer Joe Jankowski, Camp co-chaired the Innovation Summit, building the event from the ground up. She helped with every aspect, from securing funding to shaping the speaker lineup.

“It was probably one of my most exciting team endeavors that I’ve ever participated in because we did it from scratch and we did it in a timeline that was ridiculous,” she said.

Then, when she got a call earlier this year asking if she could help plan a trip for Savage to come to Cleveland, she didn’t hesitate in saying: “Absolutely! We’d love to do that.”

So in late April, Savage paid a visit to the Larry Sears and Sally Zlotnick Sears think[ box ] for his first stop on a tour around Cleveland to promote the maker movement.

In order to make all of these projects happen, Camp pulls together a strong team, making sure to call all the right people to the table—a skill she learned while operating her own grant development company for seven years. While working with clients in higher education and nonprofit organizations, Camp gained a new perspective on group dynamics and strategy when working with multiple partners.

“We’ve got a great set of people around us at CWRU that are awesome, expert and passionate and will come together for the good of the order to do things like plan a first-ever national summit and host Adam Savage,” she said.

Camp is driven by a passion for higher education and making sure it’s a sustainable, growing entity.

“I get most jazzed when I’m sitting in a room with faculty, students, staff—whoever it might be—whether they’re talking about their research, the next curriculum, the next community endeavor—when they’re pushing the limits of that knowledge,” she said. “I think that’s the most exciting place in the world.”

Get to know Camp—and her passion for higher education—better in this week’s five questions.

1. What’s the best way to spend a summer day in Cleveland?

On Lake Erie with family and friends. We have a 1984 17-foot ski boat that we take out with my family; I’ve got two boys. We have friends who go out with us and we picnic. It’s a beautiful way to spend the summer.

2. What motivates you to work hard?

Higher ed is a mission to me. It’s not a job; it’s a mission. I think we change lives in the classroom, we change lives by creating new knowledge. I want to work hard because we’re impacting society in a big way. There are a lot of challenges in higher ed right now and that makes me work even harder.

One of the things that disappoints me so much is when people proclaim: “Is a college education worth it? Should you send your kid to school?” Granted, it’s not for everybody—we can have that conversation—but it’s for a lot of people. And there are a lot of good things that happen within these walls.

3. Who is your favorite character from a book, TV show or movie?

There used to be a show called Northern Exposure that was on 20 years ago probably. It was about this little intellectual Alaskan village, where all these cool things happen. There was a character called Maggie and she was this smart, entrepreneurial, independent woman around a bunch of tough, rugged males. She always held her own and knew how to lead. To this day, I still love that character.

4. What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?

After receiving my undergraduate degree, I was offered a job in Washington, D.C. As a first-generation college student from a very small town in Ohio, my parents were quite alarmed at the possibility of moving so far away to an unfamiliar urban area. I had never been on an airplane and my family did not travel much. This was also before the Internet and email were commonplace (and forget about Skype) and they felt like I was moving to the moon. Needless to say, they were not supportive. But I packed up my car and headed to my first $20,000-a-year job and figured out how to make it. I was scared, but it taught me a huge lesson about the importance of taking risks and moving out of one’s comfort zone.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

It’s being around the people, the great minds, the great ideas.