Innovation In Action

Solutions to Real-World Challenges

Background: Innovation in Action: Solutions to Public Health Challenges (IIA) is a five-month co-curricular experience, open to all U-M students, graduate and undergraduate alike. The goal of IIA is to create a safe environment for students to take risks and move beyond the classroom through an immersive, experiential, cross-disciplinary team-based program that equips them with an innovator’s toolkit and an ecosystem that nurtures the skills necessary to be life-long innovators.

The School of Public Health’s Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship program runs IIA in partnership with the Center for Entrepreneurship (ENG), the School of Information, the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic (LAW), Zell Lurie Institute (ROSS), optiMize (LSA) and other U-M student organizations. Together we share our expertise with student teams through a skill-building module framework to: identify and understand the problem, build effective teams, design a creative solution, measure impact, etc. From creating an app to ensure better medication adherence for HIV/AIDS patients to developing a prototype for a better breast pump, student teams have demonstrated the potential of innovative programs like IIA to transform passion for social change into enterprises that can have an impact outside University walls.

Lessons Learned: In two years, IIA has engaged over 150 students across 17 of the 19 U-M schools and colleges, with 37 cross-disciplinary teams completing the five-month process (each team has representation from at least 2 units on campus). Preliminary quantitative analysis of post-participation survey data indicates an array of positive outcomes, including self-reported increases in innovation knowledge, motivation and identity. Participants cited the acquisition of real-world skill sets as a key result of the program. From one participant: “I now have a much more robust understanding of how to design, develop, and implement an innovation in the field of public health. I feel much more confidant about thinking of public health challenges within the context of innovative interventions.”

Future Applications and Next Steps: IIA’s success has generated interest across campus and outside U-M, encouraging our team to consider: what is our larger vision for the program and how can we better serve all U-M students? With these questions in mind, and the support of a Quick Wins / Discovery Grant from the University of Michigan Third Century Initiative, we plan to expand in two key ways:

  1. Create Innovation in Action: Solutions to X Challenge, where X is a topic that students care passionately about across disciplinary boundaries. We will begin with “Solutions to Education Challenges” in the 2015-2016 academic year, in partnership with the School of Education’s Center for Education Design, Evaluation, and Research (CEDER).
  2. Build targeted curricular supplements to the program, allowing students to bookend their IIA experience with more expertise for course credit.

Project Team

Ann Verhey-Henke, School of Public Health

Jane Banazsak-Holl, School of Public Health

Cathleen Connell, School of Public Health

Victoria Bigelow, School of Education

Nate Phipps, School of Education