UC San Diego launches Changemaker Institute for those dedicated to making a difference

UC San Diego volunteers participate in a changemaking activity before the COVID-19 pandemic.
UC San Diego volunteers participate in a changemaking activity before the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Courtesy of Erik Jepsen)

Led by the African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together,” UC San Diego launched its Changemaker Institute this month.

A “changemaker,” according to UCSD, is “anyone who has the courage to do things differently and takes creative action to solve social problems.”

The Changemaker Institute is designed to connect people interested in changing the world through their respective fields. It provides activities like its Changemaker 101 workshop.

“Because lasting change cannot be achieved alone, the Changemaker Institute is dedicated to equipping the community with the knowledge, skills and collaborators needed to step into action and drive significant impact,” according to media material. “With [the Changemaker Institute’s] creation, students, faculty and staff will be supported with the resources and programming to channel their passions to make a real difference.”

The institute is led by Mandy Bratton, executive director of the Jacobs School of Engineering Center for Global Sustainable Development; Patricia Mahaffey, assistant vice chancellor of student life; Wendy Hunter Barker, assistant dean of strategy and operations for the Rady School of Management; and David Ruiter, faculty director of Teaching + Learning Commons.

“Since its inception, UC San Diego has been a place where forward thinkers push boundaries and expand horizons,” Hunter Barker said. “The university is known for being nontraditional and innovative. It is thrilling that we now have an institute on campus that will serve as a focal point for the energy and effort of those who are expanding those boundaries in the direction of a just and equitable future for all.”

Bratton said she sees the institute as a way of refining the university’s ongoing mission to encourage changemaking. Starting in 2018, the campus hosted extracurricular changemaking events such as social entrepreneurship conferences, a global ethics day, social innovation challenges, volunteer opportunities, webinars and more.

“In many ways … [this formalizes] what we were doing and are committed to doing. But what has been lacking, because we are a research institution, is the connective tissue between our initiatives,” Bratton said. “I hope this will provide that connective tissue and operate like a broker. For example, if you are an economics student working on a public policy program but your field of interest is related to a problem for which an engineering student is working on a solution, you can collaborate.”

On the curricular side, the university is creating a core course that Bratton hopes will be foundational toward a changemaker minor, with different educational pathways depending on majors.

“We want to have multiple ways for students to engage based on their interest,” she said. “There will be a special focus on helping students develop the mind-set and skills to address the world’s most complex and urgent challenges, such as COVID-19. This generation of students in particular is really focused on creating social change. We saw that this summer with the Black Lives Matter movement, and I think they are eager to change the world. We are glad we are providing them with ways to do that.”

The creation of the institute came three years after UCSD was designated a Changemaker Campus by Ashoka U, a social innovation organization based in Arlington, Va., for its role as a leader in social innovation education. Only 45 universities worldwide have received that designation, and UCSD was the first University of California campus to be recognized.

While the institute is “still evolving,” Bratton said the university is looking for community partners to keep it going through collaboration. She said leaders are looking for financial donors, nonprofit organizations willing to provide internship opportunities and people willing to advise students.

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