With budgets that sometimes barely cover paper flyers, student groups inevitably face a struggle to find funding. It’s unfortunate that this is the case, since cash is often the only stumbling block between student groups’ ideas and reality. But when graduate students from the University’s College of Engineering gained sponsorship from Google, they found a way to beat these money troubles. The result was a product with benefits for the Kenyan people the students were helping and for Google. In a world that begs for new ways of thinking, companies should take the initiative to invest in student projects, because the results are good for everyone.

What began as a class project for 25 Engineering graduate students ended in the implementation of a system that brought Internet access to a rural community in Kenya. The students developed an inexpensive and easy-to-use ground system that connects computers to the Internet via satellite. The Internet system works in locations without widespread electricity by using solar energy and battery power to run the system. But without the financial aid of Google — which opened an office in Ann Arbor in 2006 and has a partnership with the University to digitalize its libraries — the system would have never been more than a prototype.

This project is just one example of the kind of innovation that students are capable of. There is no place more conducive to student creativity than communities like the University. The academic environment the University provides encourages students to question the institutions failing in today’s economic and political conditions. As a result, students gain a fresh commitment to make a difference, at home and abroad.

But students have more than enthusiasm — they have the knowledge to make their ideas reality. When students’ activism combines with their gift for innovation, the benefits can be far-reaching and invaluable. In the case of the graduate engineers, people in an underprivileged region of a nation much less wealthy than the United States now have access to knowledge they otherwise never would have.

If the most recent presidential election demonstrated anything, it was that students are fired up to change the world. The only thing stopping them is money — and that’s where business comes in. In the current economic climate, many wealthy companies and CEOs are increasingly viewed as the bad guys. By funding student activism to make a difference, companies can improve their image while enhancing innovation. It’s a situation from which everyone can benefit.

And students are aware of the potential for corporate cooperation. One example is the MPowered Entrepreneurship program, which was created in 2007 by two University students. MPowered seeks to connect students with companies to back projects. As long as companies are willing, there is no shortage of student groups looking for financial backing. Businesses and students should utilize resources like MPowered to connect to each other for the end goal of financing innovation.

There are plenty of students with good ideas for improving the world around them. There are dozens of companies that could stand to gain from assisting student innovation and activism. And there are millions of needy people in the world just waiting for partnerships like this to take off. If other companies follow Google’s lead and finance similar ventures, student passion can translate into action.

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