Nearly $1M awarded in last call for smaller Third Century grants


The latest and final round of Third Century Initiative Quick Win/Discovery grants will go to more than 20 projects, including a technology-based design solution for children with autism, one that encourages performing artists to approach their careers from an entrepreneurial mindset, and another that expands social science research opportunities for students through living labs.

Leaders say the final call for the smaller of the Transforming Learning for the Third Century grants — which provide up to $50,000 for projects that allow a general education hypothesis to be explored, piloted or expanded — resulted in another impressive pool of projects and nearly $1 million awarded, the largest round to date for this phase of the initiative.

In 2011, the president and provost committed $25 million to projects that have the potential to transform learning as U-M heads into its third century. Since the first funding announcement a year later, $15 million has been awarded to faculty members under the smaller Quick Wins/Discovery and the larger ($100,000-$3 million) Transformation grant programs.

Quick Win/Discovery grants are intended to encourage faculty to explore new ways to provide learning and research experiences for students that are creative, engaged, multidisciplinary, and that foster social and civic responsibility, communication, collaboration and self-agency. The projects also address the changing way students learn in an increasingly global and digital age.

A key component of Mark Clague’s project called Transforming Art and Artists in the Age of Digital Media is to help performing-arts students think about how to leverage technology to reach audiences in new ways, in a world where the idea of finding an agent who will help score a big performance job is becoming less of a reality.

The rise of YouTube and other social media as means to showcase talent, and the availability of music online, among other factors, have changed the economy of the industry. This means that agents, once hungry to find fresh new talent, have attached themselves to known “stars,” leaving new people to fend for themselves.

“It’s not enough today for dancers, actors and musicians to graduate with exceptional skills and training in performance,” said Clague, associate professor of musicology and director of research in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

“If we can give our students skills and awareness, and a spirit of entrepreneurship, they can find their way in this new economy — not victims of the performance world but as someone who has agency and controls his or her own destiny,” he said.  

A series of three courses will cover marketing, social media, cultural entrepreneurship and the recording industry. The project is part of a larger SMTD Cultural Entrepreneurship Initiative. Clague hopes over the three terms of the pilot that this project will reach up to 805 U-M students.

Technology also is a key component of a multidisciplinary project between the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the College of Engineering that will bring students together to research, conceptualize, create, implement and evaluate technology-embedded playscapes they will design using textiles and other tactile materials for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Architecture and computer science and engineering students will work with three area centers that serve children with autism to develop individualized solutions to encourage play and social interaction.

Architecture student Karen Duan interacts with a 3-D structure titled StretchPLAY, one of the pieces designed to encourage responses from autistic children. Pressing on the elastic textile in particular spots activates animations that are projected across various areas of the textile surface. (Photo by Sean Ahlquist)

David Chesney, lecturer IV in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has been working in this area for a number of years, guiding students in his classes to design technological solutions for children with disabilities.

For this series of courses he teamed up with Sean Ahlquist, assistant professor of architecture, who has a more personal interest in the project: His six-year-old daughter has autism.

Previous work on autism has been more general, focusing on children as a group, Ahlquist said. What he and Chesney have found is that one size does not fit all, so they are working with U-M students to focus in small teams on one child’s behavior, motor coordination, communication and social interaction.

“This project really is an excellent coupling of ‘left-brain’ and ‘right-brain,’ ” Chesney said. “It involves students from architecture to construct the large, 3-D sculptures, and students from computer science to build the software that will be ‘powered’ by the sculpture. Think of the sculpture as a very large input device to a very unique, specially created piece of software.”

Ahlquist said the task takes his students beyond the normal architecture experience.

“When architects finish a project it ends when the building is complete. But in this case that’s really the beginning. Students will be involved beyond that to see how their solutions work,” he said.

Providing students with experiences beyond what they would get through more traditional approaches to curriculum is at the heart of engaged learning. In the case of a third project, it’s about giving students the chance to serve as researchers and educators on child development, says Craig Smith, research investigator at the Center for Human Growth and Development.

The Living Lab Program provides faculty and students with the opportunity to conduct research at the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum, the U-M Museum of Natural History, and the Ann Arbor District Library. The program also allows them to develop skills as translators of science through interactions with the public.

Children visiting the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, like 4-year-old Nia Neal from Detroit, can participate in research through the U-M Living Lab. Psychology student Coral Lu is asking Nia questions about the cost of items to gauge her understanding of supply and demand. The Living Lab received an award from the Third Century Initiative.(Photo by Levi Stroud)

At the museum lab sites, U-M students explore what children think about topics such as the mental lives of robots, the value of scarce resources, the acceptability of revenge and markers of social power.

“We serve as museum exhibits, representing forms of science that are often missing in museums,” Smith says, adding children and their parents are very excited to be a part of U-M research.

Smith says the Living Lab Program is one of dozens across the nation modeled after a project that started at the Museum of Science in Boston. U-M’s Living Lab began in 2012 with Smith’s research and has expanded with other faculty, representing social science, psychology and education.

“More researchers are taking part, and more students are getting experiences as researchers and science educators,” Smith said. Since 2012 more than 5,000 families have participated in Living Lab studies.

He says the Third Century grant will allow them to include more students in data collection and science education roles, to purchase technology for the lab sites, and to hire a person to help with the day-to-day coordination of the program.



  1. ngoc long
    on July 23, 2015 at 12:11 am

    Smith says the Living Lab Program is one of dozens across the nation modeled after a project that started at the Museum of Science in Boston. U-M’s Living Lab began in 2012 with Smith’s research and has expanded with other faculty, representing social science, psychology and education.

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