Campus News

UB students make a social impact in Buffalo

From left: Kristen Kozlowski, a JD/MBA student; Kristen Luppino-Gholston, community initiatives and investments coordinator, WNY Women’s Foundation; and Nicole Jones, MSW student, discuss their project during the Social Impact Fellows orientation. Photo: Onion Studio

By MATTHEW BIDDLE

Published June 15, 2017

“The Social Impact Fellows program will give our students a comprehensive introduction to social innovation and the opportunity to put those skills to practice to help organizations in our community.”
Paul Tesluk, professor and dean
School of Management

Sixteen UB graduate students are spending their summer discovering and creating social innovation in Western New York, thanks to a new fellowship program.

Launched as part of an ongoing collaboration between the School of Management and School of Social Work, the Social Impact Fellows program pairs a management student with a social work student for an eight-week internship at a local organization, where they collaborate on ideas to tackle a social issue facing the community.

Hosted in partnership with the Blackstone LaunchPad at UB, the pilot program is funded by a gift from the UB President’s Circle to the School of Social Work.

Each week, fellows spend four days exploring and implementing an innovative proposal to help one of eight partner organizations: Belmont Housing Resources for WNY, Child and Family Services’ Employee Assistance Program, Erie County Medical Center Palliative Care Program, GObike Buffalo, Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY, McCullagh Coffee Roasters, Veterans One-Stop Center of Western New York and the WNY Women’s Foundation.

Back on campus, one day a week, students learn entrepreneurial principles during a Startup Experience session with Tom Ulbrich, assistant dean and executive director of the School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, as well as how to identify and define social challenges and generate sustainable solutions with School of Social Work faculty members Kelly Patterson and Elizabeth Bowen. Students also attend forums with guest speakers on local economic development and social justice issues, and visit socially minded organizations in the region.

“Through social innovation, organizations worldwide are coming together across sectors to find economically sustainable ways to confront critical issues in society,” says Paul Tesluk, professor and dean of the School of Management. “The Social Impact Fellows program will give our students a comprehensive introduction to social innovation and the opportunity to put those skills to practice to help organizations in our community.”

With the fellowship’s focus on cross-disciplinary collaboration, management and social work students can learn from one another as they use their varied backgrounds to brainstorm more innovative ideas for their project.

“The Social Impact Fellows program is the first of its kind to bring students from our two disciplines together as partners in co-designing social innovation projects,” says Nancy Smyth, professor and dean of the School of Social Work. “Effective social innovation requires the diverse viewpoints that businesspeople and nonprofit leaders have. Through this experience, I hope social work students recognize the knowledge and skills that business students bring — and vice versa — and gain a new perspective on society and its challenges.”

During their final presentations in July for their peers and supervisors, the fellows will discuss the project they developed and its long-term economic viability, and deliver five-minute pitches for funding for their organization. Blackstone LaunchPad venture coaches then will work with students this fall to build their ideas further or develop new ones, keeping the entrepreneurial spirit alive.

“Through this process, our students will develop an entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial mindset so they can innovate within any organization — and be more competitive in the job market,” says Hadar Borden, program director at Blackstone LaunchPad. “Moreover, as they refine and implement their strategic plan, it will have reverberating effects on Western New York and the UB community.”