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.