School of Information announces initiative for student engagement


A $2 million initiative at the School of Information aims to engage every student in information- and technology-related service projects and action-based learning during their studies.

The Initiative for Information Impact, which includes funding to establish new programs and expand existing ones, also will engage students in the broader U-M community in projects to benefit communities in the United States and overseas.

The initiative is the result of a new campaign to put practical experience, interdisciplinary work and a commitment to making lives better here and abroad at the center of UMSI’s curriculum and programs.

“Our school’s vision statement says that ‘when there is a need for world-changing information discoveries, we will be there.’ This initiative puts the money and the movement behind that promise,” Dean Jeffrey MacKie-Mason said.

The initiative’s projects include:

• New Community Impact Projects, which link School of Information students to non-profits in need of information organization and technical help.

• The Global Information Engagement Program funded by the Office of the Provost, which will send a class of students from UMSI and other schools to India to work on real-world information challenges there, starting in summer 2014 and continuing overseas for at least five years.

• The Citizen Interaction Design project, which includes a partnership between UMSI and the City of Jackson to develop new ways for citizens and government to exchange information and provide better services. The first class will convene in winter 2014.

• New Coverdell Fellowships for select Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

• A new Masters International program scholarship allowing UMSI students to participate in Peace Corps work as part of their degree program.

• Expanded grant funding for students’ international internships.

• New grant funding for students’ unpaid domestic internships.

• New grant funding for student organizations taking on data- and information-related projects.

• Formal support for A2DataDive, a student-led project that solves data problems for area nonprofits.

Elizabeth “Biz” Maher works during an Alternative Spring Break assignment in New York. Photo by Austen Hufford.

• The school’s existing Alternative Spring Break program, celebrating its 16th year, which places students at public sector organizations for career-related work over spring break in four cities (Chicago, New York, Detroit and Washington, D.C.). The program achieves the highest percentage participation rate among voluntary alternative spring break projects on campus.

• UMSI Service Day, a one-day scattering for projects in the Ann Arbor area over Martin Luther King Day weekend. The event is celebrating its fourth year.

Projects will include graduate and undergraduate students from UMSI and other schools and colleges at U-M.

“We’re ripping down the walls of the classroom,” said Kelly Kowatch, program manager for the initiative. “These are real-world problems, and we’re producing real-world products.”

The programs offer students a variety of ways to get involved, so they can select the options that make the most sense for their program of study or interests, she said. But one way or another, virtually every student that attends UMSI will be participating in the initiative. Already, almost half the students in the master’s degree program take part in UMSI Alternative Spring Break.

“It’s going to be really hard to graduate from our program without having done these things,” Kowatch said. “The goal is for everyone to participate.”

Organizations here and abroad will receive solutions to their technical information problems, ranging from new apps to digitization and archives work. Students will receive hands-on experience with practical, real-world problems, will learn how to approach issues in an interdisciplinary way, and will learn how to interact productively with people from a wide variety of cultures.

“The initiative represents a true and significant expansion to our practical engagement and service learning for students, and yet it builds on a history,” said Judy Lawson, assistant dean of academic and student affairs.

“We have long been a leader in this area. As our school has grown and has reaffirmed its mission to leverage people, information and technology to build a better world, we’ve decided to expand our commitment.”


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