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University of Kansas wins second annual Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge

Marilyn Icsman
November 2, 2018

The University of Kansas (KU) School of Public Affairs & Administration was the winner of the Second Annual Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge, sponsored by Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, in conjunction with the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) during their 2018 annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. Shannon Portillo, the assistant vice chancellor of undergraduate programs at KU Edwards Campus and a professor in the KU School of Public Affairs & Administration, presented their innovative winning project, “Collaborating with Community Colleges in Pathways to Public Service,” in the pitch competition and went on to win the top prize.

“Our collaboration, the Johnson County Community College-KU Edwards Campus Public Service Community, centers the transfer student experience and brings together different sectors of higher education to reinforce and diversify the pipeline into public service,” Portillo said.  “The JCCC-KUEC Public Service Community provides access to explore career pathways and engage with alumni, building not only an educational foundation, but a strong network of mentors.”

The other three competition finalists were:

  • Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College, which pitched the Heinz Policy Lab, a graduate course aimed at addressing real-world policy issues;
     
  • George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, which partnered with the consulting firm, The Berkley Group, to create a public-private partnership that addresses challenges of continuity planning in Virginia local government;
     
  • University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy, which pitched their master’s program, “Creative curriculum to promote applied work in community development.”

“The Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge embodies the late Sen. George Voinovich’s collaborative spirit,” said Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis. “The competition also provides an opportunity for Ohio University to showcase the transformative public service efforts that are occurring across higher education by students, faculty and their communities.”

Laurel McFarland, the executive director of NASPAA, praised the Voinovich School’s dedication to public service in offering the Innovation Challenge.

“Social innovation is a rising segment of public affairs education, and it is great to see Ohio University's Voinovich School stimulating this through a competition, and to have witnessed four NASPAA schools participating with their enthusiastic pitches,” McFarland said. “This is the future!”

One of the judges included Dr. Robert Grimm, director of the Do Good Institute, part of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and winner of last year’s inaugural Voinovich Innovation Challenge.

"The Do Good Institute was honored to compete in the first-ever Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge.  We need more 'Shark Tanks for Academics' that spur innovations in higher education.  At Maryland, we're harnessing the power of the entire campus and working across every school - from engineering to the arts and humanities - to create an on-ramp of educational experiences that can lead students from any major through a process of experiencing, learning and developing skills to create efforts that produce transformational results." 

The pitch competition was created to honor the late Sen. George Voinovich, who encouraged others to design and deliver practical solutions to challenging public problems, to expand higher education public-private partnerships, and, most importantly, to educate, mentor and develop people engaged in public service from every sector and walk of life.

"George Voinovich's extraordinary success as senator, governor and mayor was due in great part to his being a pioneering master of collaboration," James E. Austin, Harvard Business School, said in reference to Sen. Voinovich’s final book prior to his death in 2016, “Empowering the Public Private Partnership.”

This year's theme, “Collaborative Partnerships,” was chosen in recognition of the late Sen. Voinovich's deep commitment to cross-sector collaboration as a powerful tool for producing effective, efficient public services.

“This highly competitive competition featured four great presentations on innovative approaches to important public challenges,” Dr. Jason Jolley, Voinovich School associate professor and MPA director, said. “The judges and the audience members were impressed with the quality of work and novel practices employed by each university.”

All four finalists had an opportunity to present their program publicly at the 2018 NAASPAA conference, and a chance to win a $3,500 award to further the program.

Competition entrants were scored based on seven factors, including the importance and difficulty of the issue addressed, the likely effectiveness of the solution, and the innovation’s response to the unique needs of an underserved population.