Innovating, Experimenting, and Risk Taking

In order to advance the development of new models and approaches to outreach and engagement, UOE strongly supports innovative approaches to solving societal problems.

This mindset resonates well with MSU's Bolder by Design (BBD) 1 manifesto, which President Simon has characterized as a "shared strategic framework that aligns our efforts across Michigan State University and around the globe, harnessing the power of working together to achieve our highest aspirations and to fuel the creation of better outcomes and growing value for our students, state, nation, and world." The cornerstone of BBD is "an enterprising culture that takes intelligent risks and learns from failure, empowering all of us to collaborate, create, explore, and discover." As Simon warned during her rollout of the BBD campaign, "The ability to anticipate change and respond nimbly is a game changer, and it will differentiate the 21st Century's leading institutions of higher education."

UOE incorporates a philosophy of inventiveness into its approach to community engagement at least partly through sheer necessity. Community needs are not predictable, and a certain level of improvisation is involved in the process of addressing them. In trying to meet those needs and solve those problems, the goal is to perceive needs as they are emerging—to keep looking ahead of the curve.

One successful example of this approach was UOE's hand in developing the Usability/Accessibility Research and Consulting (UARC) facility. In the early 2000s, when accessibility issues were just starting to become an issue, the idea that universities should address web accessibility was new. UOE saw an opportunity for strategic investment and put substantial resources into developing lab space, hiring a director, and so on.

The result was UARC, launched in 2004. At first the facility mostly worked directly with government, industry, and community partners; now it increasingly acts as an internal consultant to the University in trying to meet the complex guidelines published by the World Wide Web Consortium, the main international standards organization for the Internet. See pp. 35-37 of this issue for more about UARC.

UOE also fully supported a community-university partnership that focuses on problem solving and critical thinking among middle school students. A multidisciplinary faculty team worked with community partners to develop the Information Technology Empowerment Center (ITEC) initiative, a nonprofit partnership of community, education, business, and government based in Lansing, Michigan. ITEC offers programs for high school students, middle school students, and adults that develop academic and leadership skills, increase educational performance, and foster students' confidence in their ability to compete professionally.

With startup assistance from numerous MSU and community partners (led by faculty from the College of Engineering, College of Education, College of Communication Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology, and UOE), ITEC began offering pilot programs during academic year 2007-2008. By academic year 2013-2014, ITEC was able to boast that it had 47 MSU students and local professionals working with youth at 20 course locations in mid-Michigan, 23 summer camps offered that year, and 518 students enrolled in its three main programs. The organization, which now operates independently, continues to thrive, with a mobile teaching platform planned for rollout in December 2015, new field trips, and new classes 2.

Both of the above projects were focused on responding to a community need. Both were a risk with a successful outcome. Not all of UOE's ventures are as successful, but there are always lessons to be learned from the experience. For example, early efforts to bring together faculty from campus who had an interest to work in different geographic areas did not always pan out. Over time the organizers of these networks found that more active support was needed than merely getting faculty to the table. Now UOE sponsors a number of place-based hubs like the Detroit Center and a permanent office in Flint, as well as supporting the CCED's recent relocation to more high-visibility space in Lansing. (See pp. 10-12 of this issue for more about MSU's place-based hubs.) The approach continues to be refined and adjusted.


  1. See bolderbydesign.msu.eduReturn to text
  2. See for more about ITEC.Return to text
  • Written by Linda Chapel Jackson, University Outreach and Engagement

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