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New Fellowship Pays for Students to Confront the World’s Problems

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Lorne Fultonberg


Lorne Fultonberg


303 871-2660

After completing summer internships, five students shared their ideas with community leaders at an October event

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Global Innovation Fellows

Their desire was undeniable. Their passion, unmatched. But using a summer internship to make the world a better place often takes even more than that.

Thanks to the Chancellor’s Global Innovation Fellowship (CGIF), five students, part of an inaugural  cohort, benefited from the chance to dive deep into a community issue of their choice. Just as important, they were paid for the experience and thus free of the financial pressures they might otherwise have faced.

“We wanted to provide an opportunity for students to get internships in these places,” says Nina Sharma, managing director of the University of Denver’s Project X-ITE. “The reason they often don't is because they don't pay. A lot of these organizations are nonprofits or small and can't afford to pay interns but they need the help.”

With support from the Anchor Point Foundation, members of an academically diverse cohort — comprising undergraduate, graduate and law students — paired with global organizations of their choosing and worked to find solutions.

“I think that’s what makes this [fellowship] different,” Sharma says. “It’s open to the entire university, totally discipline agnostic. We want to attract students from across the University. We don’t have a preference for what you're studying, we just care about tackling these global problems.”

As long as a project was aimed toward one of 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or Grand Challenges (EngineeringSocial Work, or DU), the fellows got the green light. Each was given the liberty to draw up their own self-guided experience.

With the help of a critical $5,000 stipend, the students set off on projects that included partnering with a Rwandan girls’ school, promoting the Nature Conservancy and collaborating with a leadership university in Mauritius.

“I think that’s what makes this [fellowship] different. It’s open to the entire university, totally discipline agnostic. We want to attract students from across the University. We don’t have a preference for what you're studying, we just care about tackling these global problems."

Nina Sharma Managing director, Project X-ITE
Nina Sharma

In October, the fellows chatted with potential partners at The Social, an on-campus summit co-hosted by Project X-ITE, the Graduate School of Social Work and DU’s Barton Institute for Philanthropy and Social Enterprise. Over the course of two days, they had a chance to network with entrepreneurs, educators and community leaders, sharing their ideas for social innovation — ventures that serve the greater good.

Ellie Adelman, a GSSW student, spent her summer running a series of human-centered design workshops for Denver’s African Community Center. In the past, she had interned at the same center, managing the cases of refugees who were also single mothers. This time around, Adelman plugged in deeper, consulting with refugees to develop programming that met their needs.

“I think it was a good reminder of the importance of community input,” she says. “I feel like we tend to get so siloed. I was doing human-centered design work in one capacity, and then I came here and figured I’d do social work in a different capacity. To see the ways that those blend was really lucky.”

Meanwhile, Sturm College of Law student Becky Stifter was in Boston, interning for Accion International. Stifter helped the nonprofit’s in-house legal team create a regulatory framework for developing countries looking to implement their own consumer-friendly financial-support systems for unemployed or low-income individuals. She researched what are known as “regulatory sandboxes,” where startups or other institutions can experiment with their new ideas.

“I’ve always had a passion for social entrepreneurship, and I was involved at the Barton Institute the previous year,” she says, “[but] I wouldn’t have been able to go to Boston and experience this internship without the fellowship. I feel like DU is a really unique campus in that it offers a lot of niche opportunities to students. I’ve always felt like even if the answer is no and you feel limited, the campus has really welcomed any suggestion.”

Upon their return to campus, the fellows made suggestions of their own. Along with feedback to improve the program, each reported back on the impact of their internship, sharing lessons they learned and ways in which they grew. With guidance from Project X-ITE, they will begin to explore postgraduate opportunities, connecting with mentors and community organizations along the way.

“Two or three of them have come out of the program with really great ideas for their own social enterprises,” Sharma says. “They were problems they didn’t know existed before, but now that they were embedded in these communities, they wanted to create solutions, which is the greatest thing we could have possibly asked for.”