Purdue Polytechnic High School Students put Social Innovation to the Test

The time is now to begin looking at new, inventive ways to make a difference in our community – and the vision for this reality begins with our youth.


Millennial and Gen Z populations approach problem solving in new ways; by highlighting their personal connection to a problem and identifying which new technologies will help them reach sustainable solutions fastest. Specifically, in the tech sector, there’s growing interest in connecting these natural innovators to some of our community’s most daunting challenges, so that fresh solutions can be developed, incubated and scaled for the greater good.


“Ingenuity drives solutions and cultivating thought diversity will increase the longevity of these solutions to create lasting, positive impact on our communities,” said Alan Bacon, senior director of Social Innovation Fund. “This work will produce stronger families that will empower them to realistically envision a life outside of their current situations, all while strengthening organizations in our network and their level of support for this collective effort.”


Take Purdue Polytechnic High School, for example. Students in grades 9-12 use design challenges and academic workshops to prepare them for success in college, in their future careers, and to build the communities they live in.


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As a United Way partner, Purdue Polytechnic High School, an extension of Purdue University, immerses students in a six-week learning experience to help them better understand Central Indiana and the challenges our region faces.


Students were asked how they would allocate $500 billion to meet the biggest challenges facing the world and right here at home in Central Indiana.


“We were all really pleasantly surprised by how much the students dove in deep, and how creative and thoughtful they were,” Shannon Jenkins, education director at United Way of Central Indiana said. “Not only thinking about how to address the world’s greatest challenges, but also the community that they’re living in. It’s exciting to see them grab a hold of this opportunity and own this challenge as if they were leaders in this community and they were going to change the world.”


The students kicked off their six-week curriculum with a moderated question and answer session with United Way on the value of civic engagement and how innovation plays an integral role in addressing emerging community needs. To witness their impact firsthand, students then traveled to a community-based organization for a hands-on look at the work they do. Once immersed, students formulated their own solutions and pitched their concepts to a panel of United Way judges.


“We know creative thinking is not something that just happens at tech companies and with businesses, but something that’s going to be needed to solve our world’s most ambitious challenges,” said Andrew Goodin, lead coach at Purdue Polytechnic High School. “With the United Way challenge, it felt good to identify problems that humans and members of our community are experiencing and work to solve those problems not because of money, but because we care.”


Interested in learning more about how social innovation can accelerate positive change within our communities? Click here.