The St. Thomas Arches are shown October 10, 2017.

Social Innovation Blooming at St. Thomas' Changemaker Campus

In a rapidly changing world, university students seek solution-oriented learning experiences; they want to make a difference in the world and begin to solve complex social problems. Students want to become “changemakers” – people who are empowered to help find lasting solutions to social and environmental problems.

In April 2017, the University of St. Thomas received the distinctive honor of being named Minnesota’s only Changemaker Campus, a designation by Ashoka U, a global consortium working to inspire a culture of social innovation in higher education. St. Thomas is the first in Minnesota and the 40th Changemaker Campus in the world; the consortium includes Arizona State University, Boston College, Brown University, Duke, Marquette, Monterrey Tec in Mexico and Singapore Management University.

“By designating St. Thomas as a Changemaker Campus, Ashoka U recognizes our deep commitment to creating an educational environment in which all can collaborate to create a more equitable and sustainable world,” said University of St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan. “It also recognizes the university’s innovative social entrepreneurship education and research across disciplines.”

A direct outcome of the Strategic Plan, St. Thomas 2020, the Ashoka designation matches perfectly with the university’s mission to create morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good. By engaging all the university’s stakeholders and giving students more resources to learn about social innovation and then actively do social innovation, St. Thomas’ changemaking focus as part of Ashoka will help create exciting, engaging educational opportunities for all current and future Tommies.

Today’s students’ expectations from their educational experiences are changing: 72 percent say that having a job “where I can make a difference” is very important and 65 percent expect to make a social or environmental impact through their work, according to a 2012 Net Impact study conducted by Rutgers University and supported by the MacArthur Foundation.

St. Thomas students, faculty and staff truly are changemakers, and many of their stories serve as inspiration for fellow Tommies to continue socially innovating. Some of those stories include:

Business student Mohamed Malim launched Dream Refugee, a nonprofit aimed at changing the narrative around refugees, and Epimonia, a business that donates 10 percent of its profits to charities supporting refugees.

Students and faculty collaborated to create BrightSide Produce, a first-of-its-kind economically sustainable model to combat food deserts by providing fresh produce to underserved communities.

Associate Professor of Engineering and Entrepreneurship AnnMarie Thomas and St. Thomas students worked with rock band OK Go to launch OK Go Sandbox, an online portal that provides creative concepts in innovative and engaging ways.

Students' food reclamation and several other projects were accepted into the Clinton Global Initiative University.

The St. Thomas Robot Project, a cross-departmental team, is addressing the world crisis of food shortages and the development of new technologies to grow healthy crops using less manmade and natural resources.

Enzo VinholiFirst-year student Enzo Vinholi's growing business is bringing virtual reality experiences to nursing homes, improving limited-mobility seniors' quality of life by offering access to beloved places of their past or locations around the world.

The St. Thomas' Sustainable Communities Partnership pairs courses with community partners to innovatively solve real-world problems.

Sophomore Emily Walsh's research with engineering faculty is taking on the Sahara Desert. With syrup.

Click here to see even more examples of the amazing Changemaker work being done at St. Thomas.