The Ross School of Business hosted an open house for its +Impact Studio, the latest installment of their Business+Impact initiative, this Friday. Located on the second floor of the Executive Learning and Conference Center, the +Impact Studio space is designed to be a collaborative space for cross-campus problem solving and home to a +Impact Studio Course.
Business School Dean Scott DeRue told The Daily the aim of the studio is to create a space for graduate students and faculty to work together to solve issues aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
"First and foremost, we believe that business has to be part of the solution — with government, policy, nonprofits, the whole range of institutions in our society — business has to be a collaborative partner with those other institutions on developing solutions for some of the global challenges that we face,” DeRue said. “Our Business Impact is really meant to catalyze and mobilize our faculty and our students to work together to develop these solutions.”
Last semester, Ross ran a pilot +Impact Studio Course focused on water safety. Their work centered around a machine learning algorithm developed in partnership with Ross professor Eric Schwartz to identify which buildings in the city of Flint are most likely to have lead pipes. Students also worked on figuring out how to scale out this technology to maximize its impact on communities outside Flint.
DeRue explained the course is meant to be an opportunity for students to identify important issues to find solutions for collaboratively.
“The idea is that we will continue to add issues, challenges, and opportunities that align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” DeRue said. “It’s really student and faculty driven — you tell us what you want to work on, and that will be the area of emphasis for the Impact Studio.”
According to Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, faculty director of the +Impact Studio and professor of the +Impact Studio Course, the layout of the studio is designed to foster conversation. The space includes a number of studios where students work on whiteboards, developing ideas and research that is then digitally captured. It also has a living room space for more organic conversations about the issues. Students spend the first term of the +Impact Studio Course researching and developing a nuanced understanding of their issue as they determine their focus, and the second term solving the problem and putting their thoughts into action.
The course is open to both Business graduate students and students from across University graduate programs. Sanchez-Burks emphasized the importance of having a diversity of viewpoints involved in problem solving.
“One of the things we’re really trying to do is use this space and this studio as a hub for the whole University,” Sanchez-Burks said. “Over at Ross, you’ll get to work with a huge diverse group of students tackling real problems. Critically, no real solutions can actually be developed without that diversity. We need people with that lens in Policy, Public Health, School of Information, Social Work and the MBAs.
Business graduate student Allison Winstel, who attended the event and hopes to take an +Impact course, said she was drawn to the opportunity to use business for social change.
“I picked the University of Michigan when I was looking at graduate programs because of its focus on social impact, and I felt that it had a really differentiated focus on looking at how business can play a bigger role in the entire ecosystem that creates more sustainable social change,” Winstel said. “For me, things like the Impact Studio were exactly what I was looking for — really hands on, unique opportunities to talk about how we take a more interdisciplinary approach to change, and I’m excited that this is an opportunity to do it within my coursework, outside of it, and with my peers in the school.”
Winstel added she was excited to work with students outside of the Business School.
“I think it’s just a really unique opportunity to work with people from different programs. All of my core classes right now are with MBA students, so it will be nice to get outside of that and see how people from different schools and different backgrounds approach change and approach problem solving,” Winstel said.