The Social Innovation Collaboratory: A Group of On-Campus Visionaries

By Emily Geritz on December 8, 2017 for The Rival.

Read time: 9 minutes.
Photography by Emma DiMarco
On the second floor of Hughes Hall sits a windowed room plastered with giant diagrams and flow charts. The space serves as one of the more pleasant study rooms in the business school. In addition to being the only colorful area in the building, the room is the central meeting area for Fordham’s Social Innovation Collaboratory.
The Social Innovation Collaboratory is an organization home to a variety of ideas and students that have transformed our campus for the better. The collaboratory connects members of Fordham University to work on projects that will have a social impact. In the eyes of the collaboratory, social impact is defined as “creating ways to solve complex problems affecting society”. Students will bring to the table an issue that they’re passionate about and recruit a team of individuals to assist in the mission of the project, called practicums. A practicum is an interdisciplinary group of individuals that work to solve a challenge.
Members of the practicums are encouraged to seek outside resources, developing their network and knowledge. The collaboratory also helps students develop “changemaker capacities”, which are qualities such as grit, grounded optimism, and perseverance. Through the collaboratory, students gain skills and work with innovative companies that will help pave the way for a career in sustainability and social innovation. The collaboratory is made up of many students working to promote change, but these individuals stand out among the crowd.
Olivia Greenspan (FCRH ‘19)
Olivia first entered the collaboratory through the BMW practicum, where BMW asked Fordham to form a team of students to develop a strategy that would help sell more of their electric cars. Olivia believes an important skill developed in the collaboratory is the ability to think interdisciplinarily.
“The capacity to think interdisciplinarily means that we can work on a team with business students and liberal arts students. Be able to leverage our specialities, but also speak everyone’s academic language and make sure everyone’s viewpoints are represented.”
A bit closer to home, Olivia also worked on the Sustainable Food Practicum here at Fordham. The idea for the practicum spun out of the fact that there are many vegan and vegetarian students with meal plans that have limited dining options. The members of the practicum worked with Aramark and the process began with the cafeteria hosting a weekly Meatless Monday. Meatless Monday was such a success that there is now a meatless station in the cafeteria. She states that the idea was “not removing hamburgers or pizza, but creating something that aligns with people’s values and that is good food.” Olivia also works to help incorporate sustainability in the curriculum at Fordham. This includes the addition of a sustainability component in Gabelli’s Ground Floor classes as well as the sustainability cohort for Gabelli sophomores.
Emily Leaman (GSB ‘20)
Emily was drawn to Fordham because of the unique emphasis on social innovation and sustainability in the business school. Within the collaboratory, Emily works with the Food Impact Investing Practicum, with the goal of assisting farmers in receiving funds from impact investors. Currently, the practicum is focusing on vertical farms in the New York City area. Vertical farming is the technique of producing food in vertically stacked layers, which differs from traditional horizontal farming. This style of farming can be integrated into buildings in urban areas. Emily is also working to build a sustainable living community at Fordham.
“Back when I was living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is where I’m from, I loved to experiment with sustainable living. I would compost. I carpooled everywhere. Then I came to Fordham and I felt like I had lost agency over those habits that I worked really hard to develop. I was constantly asking myself, ‘How do I develop these habits in an urban setting?’”
Through the collaboratory, Emily established a team of students, professors, and other individuals in the Fordham community to help design a passive greenhouse with a low carbon footprint that would be a place for students to experiment with sustainable living and conduct community outreach. Students interested in getting involved with the project should contact or fill out this form.
Emma Chioke (FCRH ‘19)
Emma started her career with the collaboratory as an editor for their newsletter. Last month, Emma worked to organize the collaboratory’s “My Story” event. The goal of the event was to “promote empathy and solidarity on campus as a way to promote diversity and practice inclusivity within our community” and have the storytellers “be vulnerable about stories that are very personal to them and have shaped who they are and share that experience with the rest of us story listeners.” Emma also works with the newly created Diversity Roundtable. The roundtable serves to “create the story of how diversity works on campus” and seek out problems within the community that Fordham is not addressing. The roundtable focuses on issues like the language Fordham uses regarding the Bronx and building accessibility for the disabled. Over the summer, Emma balanced working as an intern for Deloitte as well as helping with the African Finance Corporation’s efforts to determine if vertical farming could occur on fields contaminated by oil. Emma found that the skills she developed in the collaboratory had a lot of real-world applications. Emma believes that “just being here [in the collaboratory] and being around people who are so passionate about very different things inspires you to find your passion.”
Nick Swope (GSB ‘20)
Nick’s involvement with the collaboratory began when he started working with the Changemaker Badges. The badges incorporate the U.N. Sustainable Development goals, including overarching objectives such as no poverty, zero hunger, and gender equality. “We’re trying to provide a platform for students. We wanted to provide more of an incentive for students to get involved and drum up involvement in the collaboratory.” The goal of the Changemaker Badges is to reward students that are actively participating in social innovation on campus.
Students can apply for a badge by writing a reflection on an event they attended. The team then reviews the application and will issue a badge if the criteria is met. Once the badge is issued, it can be displayed on the student’s LinkedIn profile. “The badges are tangible recognition. Students can be working towards a progression of becoming more and more involved with the collaboratory. The top level is Changemaker, so someone who’s super involved and making a meaningful impact on campus.” Nick hopes to integrate the badges into sustainability classes at Fordham because he believes social innovation is “hard to teach in a classroom setting. People need to go out in the world and do it more than learn it.”
Randy Mueller (GSB ‘20)
Randy’s current project within the collaboratory is the creation of a new print publication, The Innovator, that started this semester.
“We’re identifying the social issues we care about the most. Each individual person is researching existing solutions, why they’re not working right, and what potentially could be done better. So it ranges from just within the Fordham eco-system to global issues.”
The publication is completely student-run, with a staff of writers and an in-house design team.“I want everybody to be applying the skills that they want to be using in their careers to topics they want to carry with them for the rest of their lives.” Randy has gained important skills through his involvement in the collaboratory, including being comfortable with his ideas and not being afraid to ask for help. In addition, Randy is interested in impact investing and serves on the e-board for the Net Impact organization on campus.
The Social Innovation Collaboratory provides a space for students to pursue their passions while improving the communities that surround them. They allow their members to combine their unique talents and interests to achieve a common goal. Having such a community on campus promotes forward thinking advancement and collaboration in order to create something new.
The Social Innovation Collaboratory meets on Wednesdays in Hughes 207, alternating between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm. The collaboratory’s blog can be found at To subscribe to the collaboratory’s newsletter, sign up here.