May 31, 2013

Innovation to Change Lives

A Social Innovation Lab "huddle."

A Q&A with program leaders Monique Fuchs and Erik Miller

Wentworth’s new Social Innovation Lab launched on May 20. Monique Fuchs, associate vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship, and Erik Miller, director of the Center for Community and Learning Partnerships, answered some questions about the brand-new program.

What is the Social Innovation Lab?

Monique Fuchs: The Social Innovation Lab gives students the opportunity to focus on product and technology innovations that impact communities and improve people’s lives while working within an interdisciplinary context and as part of a peer group. Five students from five different disciplines will tackle five large-scale problems, generate ideas for possible solutions, prototype, and hopefully push their ideas to implementation into a community or as a startup. The Social Innovation Lab is a co-creation of Wentworth's innovation and entrepreneurship challenge, Accelerate, and the Center for Community and Learning Partnerships.

Where did the idea for the Social Innovation Lab come from?

MF: Wentworth has always been a nurturing ground for meaningful innovations. When we launched Accelerate in May 2012 we wanted to create an outlet for students to engage and collaborate across those disciplines and generate ideas and solutions they are passionate about. Not surprisingly, we have seen many students come up with product and technology innovations. Many of them were geared toward having a larger impact, improving communities and individuals’ lives, rather than a lifestyle solution. Ideas such as Gentoo, an infusion harness, can forever change the lives of patients who are undergoing infusion treatments. A finalist in the 2013 MassChallenge Accelerator program, Gentoo is also part of the Social Innovation Lab, as is Sonas, a technology solution to support visually impaired individuals in their daily life.

Erik Miller: Collaboration with the Center for Community and Learning Partnerships has pushed the focus of innovation for social good. The products, processes, programs, and policies that are getting the most attention in the innovation environment are the ones focusing on innovative, efficient, and just solutions for complex social issues. Instead of being an institute that looks broadly out onto problems outside our environment, the focus of the Social Innovation Lab is to address problems with a domestic—if not local—focus.

How will students collaborate with representatives from the City of Boston and community organizations?

MF: Depending on the problems that students want to investigate and address further, we'll be reaching out to individuals, communities, the City of Boston, and for-profit and nonprofit organizations, as appropriate. We will also be tapping into our large pool of mentors—comprised of alumni and other professionals in Boston’s ecosystem—who can help students think through sustainable innovations, marketability, business models, implementation, and funding.

EM: The Center for Community and Learning Partnerships facilitates and strengthens partnerships that yield transformative educational experiences while addressing community interests. Being able to incorporate the community voice in the students’ work is very important in creating a multidimensional learning perspective. In every way possible, students will have an opportunity to collaborate with community organizations related to the social problems they identify.

Will high school students be involved in the process?

MF: Wentworth is committed to Boston Public Schools (BPS) pipeline programs. Pipeline programs provide support with practical needs, from study skills to financial readiness, while also developing self-direction and leadership. By exposing high school students to college courses, campus visits, and hands-on experiences like the Social Innovation Lab, Wentworth is helping them build the confidence, capacity, and commitment they need for long-term academic and career success. 

What is the goal of the program?

MF: Our goal is to graduate the next generation of leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs with competencies that go beyond textbooks. Today, industry needs individuals who can collaborate and make connections across disciplines, think more systemically, empathize with others, learn how reinvent themselves, fail and evolve quickly, and access and follow their passion. If Wentworth is successful with any of our innovation and entrepreneurship programs, our students will not only thrive in their careers, but also impact others for the better. Out of the five problems that will be tackled as part of the Social Innovation Lab, we hope the students can push their ideas to implementation into real communities and create an emerging startup that will help shape an industry and change people's lives. 

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