Out of a large pool of applicants, 36 Grinnell College students have been selected and assigned to 11 teams for the Spark Tank Social Innovation Challenge. Each team will collaborate with a local community partner to research, evaluate, and develop an innovative solution to a poverty-related challenge in the broader Grinnell community that has been identified by the community partners.

Topics include how to tell the story of rural poverty, the lack of high-speed internet in rural areas, affordability of early childhood education, lack of rural public transit systems, and the role of community gardens, among others.

Eye on the Prize

Student teams will work to develop and refine their proposals until April 13, when the Spark Tank Pitch Contest will take place at 11 a.m. in Harris Center Concert Hall.

At stake: cash prizes for students on the top three teams, and up to $15,000 from the Wilson Center to help implement the winning solution. Students on the winning team will also have the opportunity to receive a funded summer internship as well as a 2017-18 service learning work-study to help implement the project.

Collaboration is Key

On Friday, December 2, 2016, students met for a workshop dinner where they learned of their team assignments. Professor Doug Hess then led them through set of exercises to think about how to develop and weigh possible solutions to problems. Hess is an expert in policy studies who spent two decades working on social problems of various kinds prior to joining Grinnell’s political science department.

Each team represents a diverse group of individuals with distinct backgrounds, areas of study, and class years. The workshop gave them their first opportunity to share both their like-minded passions for the issues as well as their diverse methods and ideas for approaching these.

Students also look forward to forming meaningful relationships in our broader community. In the coming months, students will be working with community-based organizations such as:

  • The Hatchery on Main
  • The Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation Grinnell
  • Mid-Iowa Community Action
  • The Grinnell Regional Medical Center

These collaborations allow the cross-pollination of backgrounds and ideas among students and the greater Grinnell community. Students are enthusiastic about both helping make a change within their community, as well as growing and learning from the experiences this will involve.

Through intensive collaboration both among students and between students and community partners, Spark Tank serves as a platform for raising awareness of social justice issues as well as inspiring and preparing the next generation of young yet capable leaders and innovators.

The Spark Tank Innovation Challenge is sponsored by Grinnell’s Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership, whose mission is to inspire and prepare students as innovators and leaders.

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