IT Funding - University of Missouri

In May 2008, Michael McKean, director of the Futures Lab at the Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) and chair of the University of Missouri’s Information Technology Committee, and his colleagues created a new Interdisciplinary Innovation Fund that leverages MU’s existing student technology fees, along with supplementary sources such as departmental contributions and/or corporate partnerships, to foster innovative technology developments and entrepreneurship. The fund provides a mechanism for encouraging and financially supporting multiple technology-based, student-driven, interdisciplinary initiatives. Grants from the fund are to be used to enrich students’ educational experience directly, and are to support collaborations among colleges, schools, departments, and student organizations. But the projects are not mere academic exercises. Key to the funding concept is that successful projects not only aim to generate real-world products—often with corporate partners—but also that they are expected to demonstrate measurable results within one year.

Once a year, teams of faculty and/or students submit multidisciplinary, technology-enabled proposals to the MU Information Technology Committee, which reviews all proposals and makes recommendations to the Office of the Provost for funding. Teams make both oral pitches and written proposals, which include a project plan, outside resources and funding information, evaluation criteria, and a budget. Once a project is approved for funding, team members are expected to make a mid-year status presentation as well as a formal presentation at the culmination of their year-long project.

Numerous remarkable, innovative projects have been submitted to the fund. For instance, one group developed a dashboard to provide real-time, high-resolution feedback on electricity consumption, using web-based Building Dashboard technology from energy monitoring and display system vendor Lucid Design Group. The dashboard functions year-round to track, analyze, and display utility usage statistics on a dedicated website in real time. Another project: a solar-powered and energy-efficient house, which draws on technologies from companies like Autodesk, Adobe, and Google.

One exemplary project funded by the Interdisciplinary Innovation Fund was the RJI iPhone Competition, in which student teams competed in the development of iPhone apps (Apple was the key corporate partner). One of the highlights of the project was a memorable educational experience for the participating students: The student iPhone team finalists traveled to Apple’s Cupertino, CA, campus to get feedback from Apple engineers on their applications. Then the winning team presented their iPhone application at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. The project also impacts the curriculum at MU, notes Keith Politte, manager of RJI’s Technology Testing Center. “While the iPhone Competition has concluded, the initiative will continue this fall through an iPhone development class taught jointly by MU computer science and journalism faculty.”

The Interdisciplinary Innovation Fund is designed to break down silos that have traditionally isolated different academic disciplines and institutional departments. The cross-disciplinary projects that have received funding were clearly organized from the bottom up. New cross-disciplinary curricula have emerged as a result, exploiting the strategic opportunities opened up by these self-selecting interdisciplinary collaborations. Based on its initial success and popularity, the Interdisciplinary Innovation Fund will be doubled for AY 2009-2010.

About the Authors

Mary Grush is Editor and Conference Program Director, Campus Technology.

Matt Villano is senior contributing editor of this publication.