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Innovation Scholars Program

Serving faculty and administrators—collectively called scholars— the ISP supports the goals of the university it serves. Overall, the ISP equips participants with the skills and mindset to solve the region’s development challenges.

Innovation is a process, not a product

Collaboratively created between Michigan State University (MSU) and Malawi's Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), the Innovation Scholars Program is a 15-month capacity-building program offered by Global Center for Food Systems Innovation.

Guided by the idea that innovation is a process that can be learned, the first cohort of scholars entered the program in June of 2016 and graduated in August 2017. A second cohort launched September of 2018.

Key Components

Practicing Design Thinking

Facilitated by experts specializing in higher education and adult learning, the Innovation Scholars Program teaches and models the principles of design thinking and systems thinking that enable the university community to consider problems from new angles, recognize potentially inaccurate assumptions, and finally, break ground on new solutions.

Faculty members practice design thinking while working on research teams aimed at solutions to local challenges. As they work with others and receive feedback on their innovation plans, scholars practice refining their proposed solution. Traversing through the non-linear steps of empathy, problem definition, idea generation, prototyping and testing, faculty develop an understanding of how design thinking leads to innovation in academic research.

Similarly, administrators practice design thinking as they collectively reflect and rethink university organization, procedures, assessments, and other important factors. Leaders use design thinking to develop real-world solutions for innovation that are targeted to their university. Faculty and leaders work together to implement changes in the classroom and elsewhere within the institution.

Multiple Tracks Serve Different Needs

The Innovation Scholars Program has two tracks tailored to the differing needs of faculty members and administrative leaders. In this way, the ISP takes a holistic approach to instituting gradual change within the university. 

Faculty Scholars learn techniques for bringing innovative thinking into the classroom and academic research. Individual scholars on the faculty track also propose a research project aimed at solving a specific challenge, and form a design team composed of internal and external partners. This track is designed to build the faculty's capacity to implement new and innovative processes for student learning; design, develop and conduct high quality research that addresses current food system challenges; improve engagement with relevant stakeholders; and communicate the impact of their scientific research and innovation to diverse audiences.

Leadership Scholars, including, deans, department heads, and the university registrar, develop ways to dismantle institutional constraints that inhibit innovation, and discuss new approaches to faculty assessment and other procedures. The academic leadership track is designed to develop innovative academic leaders. Leaders focus on understanding what innovation would look like in their institution; identifying institutional barriers to innovation in teaching, research, and outreach; articulating the gaps in leadership development that contribute to these barriers; and defining the qualities, knowledge, and skills needed to promote a culture of innovation within their institutions.

Network Scholars are members of the private and public sector and other universities. The second ISP cohort is the first to have a network scholar track, in which 15 members of the Malawi National Engineering Ecosystem Network will participate in the ISP alongside the faculty and leadership scholars. Adding a third track will build connections between MUST, the private sector and nongovernmental organizations, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the National Commission for Science and Technology, and the National Committee on Energy, Industrial and Engineering Sciences. 

Assessment & Iteration

Iterative and ongoing assessment has helped to identify when and how scholars take hold of the concepts of design thinking.

Across the project, quantitative program and financial data are collected about each research and leadership project. Just as important, program facilitators seek to understand why individuals make changes along the way. Through the scholars' reflective essays, facilitators see how each scholar makes improvements to their projects. Qualitative interviews and workshop outputs are also collected to help illustrate how each participant has understood and embodied the learning through this program.

Artifacts from each interaction are considered in planning the next interaction, creating a learning journey that is aligned to the implementation framework and simultaneously informed by participants and partners.

Scholars on excursion at BRCK. Photo: John Bonnell




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