President Kathleen McCartney Announced the Launching of Innovation Challenge

Photo By Jen Zhu ’18 | President McCartney launched her new Innovation Challenge to bring together ideas from Smith community members.

Sunnie Yi Ning ’18 Assistant News Editor

On Sept. 16, President Kathleen McCartney sent out a letter to the community announcing the creation of the 2016-17 Innovation Challenge, a competitive funding opportunity open to current students, staff and faculty to advance inclusion, diversity and equity for the Smith community and beyond.

In the statement released by President McCartney to the community, she said that an anticipated 10 to 15 awards in the $10,000 range will be made. The $150,000 funds come from the President’s Discretionary Fund, which includes funds allocated to test and accelerate ideas with the potential to make a big difference for Smith.

The purpose for this fund was echoed in President McCartney’s letter to the Community on July 13, in which she promised to “create funding opportunities to support research, teaching, learning and activism that aim to address real world problems, especially racism which lies at the heart of so much violence in the world.”

Proposals will be due Oct. 14, and a working group representing the president’s cabinet, students, staff and faculty will be in charge of reviewing the proposals and making funding recommendations to President McCartney. The working group includes Nybria Acklin ’18, Student Government Association; Dwight Hamilton, vice president for inclusion, diversity and equity; Zaza Kabayadondo, co-director, design thinking initiative; Donna Lisker, dean of the college and vice president for campus life; Peggy O’Neill, assistant professor, School for Social Work; Bill Peterson, associate provost and dean for academic development; and Silvana Saca ’18, secretary, Student Government Association.

Regarding the origin of the idea, the Committee on Mission and Priorities (CMP) came up with the idea of funding projects from students, staff and faculty on complex, urgent problems while working on strategic plans. According to the draft of the strategic plan set up by the CMP, they proposed to create such a funding opportunity to “prepare women to foster and lead sustainable, just communities.”

McCartney said she then developed the idea with her cabinet, working especially closely with Dwight Hamilton. “Along the way, I previewed our thinking with key individuals and groups in our community, including Janis Luke, SGA president; Professor Kevin Rozario, chair of Faculty Council; and BSA chairs, whom I hosted for lunch at the beginning of the semester,” she said.

Hamilton emphasized the importance of community participation. “Smith is a place of activism, energy and creativity. Through the Innovation Challenge, we are looking to surface the brilliant ideas generated by our students, staff and faculty to strengthen our campus and our communities,” he commented.

The selection criteria for the proposals include  innovation, teamwork and scale. “Projects are encouraged which demonstrate innovative approaches to teaching, research and activism take a team approach, emphasizing cross-group collaboration and can be replicated at a larger scale,” said McCartney.

McCartney explained that she has already heard from individuals and groups planning to submit proposals. Hamilton also said that the feedback so far has been uniformly positive. “People are very excited and I’m looking forward to seeing the ideas,” he said.

In encouraging the Smith Community to participate, McCartney said, “We need everyone’s best ideas. This is everyone’s opportunity to make a difference — for Smith and for communities beyond Smith — on one of the most consequential challenges of our time.”