Social Impact Fellows

Collaborating across disciplines to solve today’s most pressing social challenges.

Through UB's Social Impact Fellows program, students from the School of Management and School of Social Work spend the summer learning about and creating social innovation in Western New York. Presented in collaboration with the Blackstone LaunchPad at UB, the program pairs action-oriented MBA and Master of Social Work students together for an internship at a local mission-driven organization, where they work together to address pressing social issues and make an impact on our community.

The program has received philanthropic support from the Charles D. and Mary A. Bauer Family Foundation, the School of Management Alumni Association, the UB President’s Circle and several generous alumni and friends of the university.

Learn more about social innovation in the School of Management.

Making an impact in the community

In 2018, the second year of the program, 22 fellows worked with their partner organizations to help them improve services, enhance business performance and address gaps to better serve and strengthen their communities. New this year, three teams included a graduate student researcher from the UB College of Arts and Sciences, who provided additional context to help ensure their solution was sustainable. 

2018 fellows and projects

  • Catholic Charities of Buffalo: Deja Thompson (MSW) and Vipul Vijayanand Pandit (MBA) researched and identified innovative ways for the organization to increase outreach to individuals and families in rural communities.
  • Explore Buffalo: Jackson Mar (MSW) and Michael Harper (graduate history researcher) created a curriculum and program to promote neighborhood history and cultural awareness with Buffalo Public School students.
  • Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo: Ainslie Evans (MSW) and Aditya Palnitkar (MBA) developed a business plan for a free group fitness program for veterans.
  • Learning Disabilities Association of Western New York: Savannah Figueroa (MSW) and Garrett Martin (MBA) proposed a program to address the prevalence of lead poisoning in minority communities.
  • Niagara Lutheran Health System: Erika Vertigan (MSW), Sydney Taylor (MBA) and Daniel Bagnall (graduate sociology researcher) collaborated to research and develop the first local comfort care home for individuals who don't qualify for hospice or nursing care.
  • Olmsted Center for Sight: Cheney Brockington (MSW) and Lauren Weiss (MBA) developed high-visibility, adaptive gear for blind and visually impaired athletes.
  • Oneida Sales and Service: Alyssa Bergsten (JD/MSW) and Aric Gaughan (MBA) created a construction worker safety program based in social work theory.
  • The Foundry: Priscilla Kabilamany (MSW) and Benjamin Dawson (MBA) created a social enterprise to provide jobs for out-of-school youth ages 16-24.
  • University Heights Tool Library: Melissa Cirina (MSW), Sonya Tareke (MBA) and Qiuyi Zhang (geography PhD researcher) put together an expansion and sustainability plan for the nonprofit.
  • Westminster Economic Development Initiative: Michael Palazza (MSW) and Ajay Murthy (MBA) devised a plan to encourage West Side Bazaar vendors to adopt more eco-friendly practices.

How it works

Cody Barber and Asta Padervinskaite, an MSW and MBA student, respectively, worked with GObike Buffalo on a program to empower people in need to become bicycle commuters.

Cody Barber and Asta Padervinskaite, an MSW and MBA student, respectively, worked with GObike Buffalo on a program to empower people in need to become bicycle commuters.

The Social Impact Fellows program prepares students to address societal issues using principles of entrepreneurship and sustainable social innovation.

  • During the eight-week summer internship, one fellow from the School of Social Work and one from the School of Management work together with a mission-driven organization to address a systemic social issue troubling our region.
  • At each site, the fellows learn about issues the organization tackles and meet with stakeholders who are working on or affected by these problems. Using this information and the entrepreneurial principles they learn, the fellows create a solution to address these issues.
  • During the program, fellows conduct their internship Monday through Thursday.
  • On Fridays, they return to campus for sessions with management and social work faculty, who collaborate to teach fellows how to identify, define and generate solutions for social challenges.
  • Students also attend forums with guest speakers on economic development and social justice issues, share their internship experiences with one another in facilitated group discussions, and visit social enterprises throughout Buffalo. 

How our students, partner organizations and community benefit

Social Impact Fellows work on a project at the University Heights Tool Library.

At the University Heights Tool Library, the Social Impact Fellows helped the nonprofit create an expansion and sustainability plan.

Across the globe, social innovation is rapidly growing, as companies, nonprofits and governments partner to bring together their skills and perspectives to tackle sweeping challenges. That's the spirit that guides the Social Impact Fellows program — and provides great benefits for each stakeholder.

  • Students gain skills and experience in strategic planning, creative problem-solving, entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship (the ability to innovate within an organization), making them more marketable and competitive in the job market. Additionally, students receive compensation for tuition and fees with a modest stipend.
  • Through their internship and other experiences, fellows learn about and find creative ways to address such social issues as homelessness, gender equity, food waste and health care, thereby making an impact on the community.
  • The program culminates with the Pitch for a Cause competition, during which fellows present their solutions and compete for funding to help their partner organizations continue to implement their ideas.
  • After working closely with peers in another discipline, students gained an appreciation for the background and skills their counterparts from management or social work bring. Many told us the program inspired them to expand their career goals to include nonprofit management and social entrepreneurship.

"The pairing of MSW and MBA students was exactly what we needed to create a plan that was person-centered, fiscally responsible and sustainable."

— Sandra Lauer, Director, Continuum of Care, Erie County Medical Center

“The students created a comprehensive program based on a solid foundation of research that has the potential to help youth aging out of foster care find and afford stable housing, support their educational and financial goals, and help set them up for a self-sufficient future. We were so impressed with their professionalism, initiative and how well they worked as a team, while each bringing their specific strengths to the work."

— Amanda Wilton, Housing and Financial Coach, Belmont Housing Resources for Western New York