With just a week left before the launch of the University’s next fundraising campaign on Nov. 8, the School of Information has a new endeavor of its own.
The school’s Initiative for Information Impact, announced Monday, aims to establish new programs and enhance existing ones to engage more University students in information and technology related service projects. The $2-million program will sponsor projects that put experience and interdisciplinary to work to improve quality of life for people around the world.
Funded from a variety of outlets — including the school’s general fund budget, gifts, faculty donations and fundraising — the initiative introduces a host of new programs that focus on increasing the variety of projects that Information students can apply their skills to.
Jeff MacKie-Mason, dean of the School of Information, said. Wednesday that the initiative aligns with the school’s strategic goals of harnessing the power of applied information to improve people’s lives.
“We’ve always known and believed in the power of experimental learning,” MacKie-Mason said. “We want to increase the amount of that, with a particularly strong focus on service.”
MacKie-Mason convened a strategic planning session three years ago when he assumed his post, succeeding Martha Pollack, who is now University Provost. He added that faculty, students and staff were consulted to ensure the program’s goals aligned with the needs and aspirations of the different constituencies.
Judy Lawson, the School of Information assistant dean of academic and student affairs, said MacKie-Mason’s efforts as dean have refocused the school’s mission.
“Our dean has recommitted the school towards core values that we’ve had throughout our history, but now we want to make those values and act on them in a more forward-thinking way in terms of getting our students involved in making a difference in the world,” Lawson said.
Some of the programs supported by the initiative include new community impact projects linking students to nonprofit organizations; a global information engagement program, which will send students to India to work on information challenges starting in 2014; and the Citizen Interaction Design project, which will develop a partnership between the School of Information and the city of Jackson, Mich.
The Office of the Provost provided the funds for the global information engagement program, which Lawson said reflects the idea that the initiative will grow to be a University-wide effort.
“It’s driven from students; it’s driven from faculty and from staff,” Lawson said. “We see the huge impact it has on the student experience and we have advocated for this expansion as well.”
The initiative will also provide more support for the school’s Alternative Spring Break — one of its flagship programs. The program gives students the opportunity to work at public sector organizations over spring break and participation has risen from about 40 students to 130 students over the past few years.
Some of the program’s funds will provide grants for students’ international internships, unpaid internships and student organizations focused on data and information-related projects. Students will begin receiving aid in time for the 2014 summer internship season.
In describing the fund’s impact, Lawson highlighted A2DataDive, a student-led project that helps nonprofits handle their data. Founded by University alum Nikki Roda in 2011, the program has hosted two DataDive events, where students help teach nonprofits how to handle their data over the course of a weekend workshop. The program began receiving financial support through the program this year.
Priya Kumar, an Information graduate student and co-leader of A2DataDive, said the program has allowed her to put her knowledge to work in the organization’s projects.
“It’s kind of like you get to visualize and see what you’re learning in the classroom,” Kumar said. “That’s the most powerful element of doing the DataDive.”