The University of Notre Dame College of Engineering has created a new Center for Civic Innovation in partnership with the Notre Dame Research, Center for Social Concerns and IDEA Center — part of an effort to find innovative solutions to pressing civic issues and improve quality of life and place in St. Joseph and Elkhart counties.
Consistent with the University’s longstanding commitment to the community, the center will facilitate partnerships between Notre Dame and local stakeholders, including schools, businesses, nonprofits and local governments, to innovate solutions around issues ranging from safe and affordable housing to lighting and stormwater management.
The University already partners with South Bend around the MetroLab Network, a consortium of 35 city-university partnerships focused on bringing data, analytics and innovation to city government as part of the White House’s Smart Cities Initiative.
The new center will build upon that relationship in three key ways, according to Jay Brockman, associate dean of community engagement and experiential learning in the College of Engineering and director of the new center.
• It will broaden the relationship to include Elkhart, an industrial and creative hub and home to the booming recreational vehicle industry, in addition to other parts of St. Joseph and Elkhart counties.
• It will work with other campus and research centers to establish connections and open new initiatives focused on the local community.
• It will expand upon the model of an “educational ecosystem” piloted by the Notre Dame-backed Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem (BCe2).
A collaborative network of schools, local governments and community organizations, BCe2 pilots inclusive, sustainable projects to address real-world challenges in South Bend’s Southeast Neighborhood, a working-class neighborhood that was home to many former Studebaker Corp. employees.
Since 2015, the coalition, which started as an effort to revitalize Bowman Creek, a polluted tributary of the St. Joseph River, has worked to address a range of issues, from storm- and wastewater management and the reuse of vacant lots to safe and affordable housing.
“The University wanted to create a focal place where research and innovation that is beneficial to St. Joseph and Elkhart counties can come together,” Brockman said of the idea behind the center, explaining that there is “a push in engineering to translate research and innovation into practical application.”
Importantly, Brockman said, the center will work closely with local stakeholders, from educators and business and community leaders to public officials and everyday residents, to identify and address issues of specific importance to the community in a way that is inclusive and respects the experience and shared wisdom of the community.
“We’ll work with people in the city, neighborhood associations, community development corporations and schools, among other groups, to determine a priority list that matches what’s needed with what the students and faculty can do,” Brockman said. “Our goal is to work with the community to find resolutions to important issues, not to do things for or to the community.”
In addition to innovating solutions around civic issues, the center will introduce young people in the community to in-demand careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through its work with local primary and secondary schools, Brockman said.
“The Center for Civic Innovation will help unlock the city as a launch pad for learning and research that goes beyond service projects,” said Santiago Garces, chief innovation officer for the city of South Bend. “The center will work closely with the city’s Division of Civic Innovation, founded this year, as an engine to promote novel solutions to city problems. South Bend and Notre Dame are already models for city-university partnerships as founding members of the MetroLab Network, and we look forward to expanding our partnership.”
Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese said, “Elkhart is a collaborative community. All obstacles we have encountered have been overcome through collaboration and innovation. I am encouraged that the University of Notre Dame is expanding their community relationship to include the city of Elkhart and look forward to partnering with them to find creative solutions to challenges facing our city, ultimately making Elkhart an even better place to live, make and play.”
For more information, visit civicinnovation.nd.edu.
— Erin Blasko, Office of Media Relations