SMU Launches Center for Innovation & Excellence in Learning

The Center for Innovation & Excellence in Learning
Thursday, October 4, 2018

Providing faculty members with the professional resources to be the best educators they can be has long been a priority at Samuel Merritt University (SMU). As at other universities, however, available teaching tools – while plentiful – can seem like a collection of puzzle pieces.

To transform professional development into a cohesive picture, SMU’s Office of Academic Affairs has launched the Center for Innovation & Excellence in Learning (CIEL). The center is designed as a hub for all of the University’s professional development resources that will support SMU faculty and staff in learning state-of-the-art health care teaching practices. In the future, CIEL will expand to benefit SMU’s academic and clinical partners as well. 

“We want CIEL to be the reason that those who desire to work in health professions education choose SMU as the place to begin, grow, or complete their careers as educators,” said Celeste Villanueva, director of CIEL and SMU assistant academic vice president. “SMU is committed to the professional growth of faculty and staff, and to inspiring them to excellence both as teachers and learners themselves.”

Villanueva first envisioned an institute in 2012 that would promote 21st-century scholarship while she was the director of SMU’s Health Sciences Simulation Center

Now brought to fruition, CIEL will provide innovative ways to educate students in ways that encourage creativity and change. CIEL is also the French word for sky or heaven, which illustrates the center’s aspiration to connect creativity with technology, according to Villanueva.

“Faculty development in the world of higher education, and especially for health professions education, has been given lip service for too long,” she said.  “By creating CIEL, we are providing a robust, structured learning environment for those who teach as well as opportunities and resources for faculty to develop as scholars.”

CIEL will also provide instruction on:

  • How wellness can be incorporated into a curriculum.
  • Courses in simulation-based learning and American Heart Association certification training.
  • Building an interprofessional curriculum.
  • How to design a research project.
  • How to prepare students to serve in diverse communities.

“CIEL marks a major advance at SMU as a cutting-edge professional development center,” said SMU Academic Vice President and Provost Scot Foster. “To educate the very best health care providers, we need to prepare each and every SMU faculty member to be the very best teacher possible.  CIEL is the safe playground for our imagination to explore and perfect the knowledge of how to best prepare students to care expertly for patients.”

Overall, Villanueva said, the goal of CIEL is to make educators into scholars and researchers.

“Our hope at CIEL is to serve as a catalyst for a culture change at SMU where the prevailing silo mentality within our academic programs, university departments or divisions, and among people and teams, is transformed into an institution-wide shift to a collaborative, synergistic approach to how we accomplish our mission,” she said.


CIEL is located at 3300 Webster St., Suite 308, in Oakland.

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