As one of less than 50 Changemaker Campuses designated by Ashoka U, Portland State is known for fostering social innovation as a core organizational and educational value. But what does the Changemaker Campus designation really mean for the day-to-day experience of learning, teaching, and working at PSU? And how does sustainability connect? Since the designation helps capture what’s already happening at PSU, what does it mean to be a student, faculty or staff changemaker?
To unpack these questions and understand what being a Changemaker Campus means in 2020, we spoke with Abby Chroman, School of Business Program Manager for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Abby shared that Changemaker Campuses are known for enabling just that – students, faculty and staff making change, both on and off campus.
“Even if we don’t always use the label ‘changemaker,’ Ashoka U recognizes PSU as a school and workplace that cultivates leadership and collaboration skills, as well as empathy,” Abby explained. “Not only do students, faculty and staff launch their own programs and pitch solutions to challenges they see on campus and in the community; at PSU there is this supportive mix of energy, innovation and structures that enable lasting change to be made.”
A term closely associated with the Ashoka U Changemaker Campus designation is social innovation. We asked Abby to talk a bit about the concept of social innovation and to highlight some programs and experiences at PSU that foster it.
“The PSU Certificate in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship is all about helping students and professionals gain a set of tools and frameworks that they can use throughout life and their careers to address social and environmental problems,” Abby explained. “The Certificate looks at stakeholder-focused business models that transfer widely, whether you are organizing a campaign, building a movement, or working for a nonprofit.”
In addition to the Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship certificate, there are numerous other professional development, leadership, academic and student life programs at PSU that support and foster change making skills. For example, among sustainability initiatives on campus, the Living Lab program and Student Sustainability Center provide opportunities for students to collaborate with their peers and with faculty, staff, and administration and explore and transform systems and practices on campus. Behind all of these programs is a basic willingness to try new things.
Since PSU was first named a Changemaker Campus in 2012, the relevance and importance of this identity has grown. In 2020 and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and global social justice uprising, the need for changemakers is clear and compelling.
“Changemakers is a hopeful framing,” Abby believes. “The current challenges are not the final challenges that society will deal with, so it’s critical we continue to build on the idea that changemakers can come from any discipline and career, from scientists to dancers. We don’t necessarily know exactly what problems need solving in the future, but we know we need problem solvers. By continuing to expand and invest in programs that create changemakers, PSU can continue to help students and our community be equipped.”
Written by Emily Quinton, Program & Partnership Coordinator, Campus Sustainability Office.