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A finalist for the Senator George Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge presents to the panel of judges.
Robert T. Grimm Jr., director of the Do Good Institute at University of Maryland, presents to a panel of judges.

University of Maryland School of Public Policy wins Innovation Challenge honoring legacy of Senator Voinovich

Daniel Kington
October 26, 2017

After Sen. George Voinovich died last year, Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs began searching for ways to honor his legacy. It was in that spirit that the School announced the Senator George Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge in partnership with the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration, an international association of nearly 300 universities with public affairs programs.

At the 2017 NASPAA conference on October 13, the inaugural winner of the Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge was announced as the University of Maryland School of Public Policy for its Do Good Campus initiative.

The competition encourages creative problem solving in the public sphere, whether through education, research, or service learning. The school invited proposals from all NASPAA-affiliated student groups, faculty and administrators, then selected three finalists to present their ideas at the conference. The winner was selected by a group of judges.

R. Gregory Browning, an executive in residence at the Voinovich School and president of the Columbus, OH-based consulting firm Capital Partners, served as a judge for the competition.

“It was an honor and a joy to serve as a panelist for the first George Voinovich Innovation Challenge,” Browning said. “I believe that George Voinovich would have been delighted with the strength and accomplishments of the competitors. I also think that he would be particularly impressed with the winner’s commitment to doing good through engaged, student-centered learning that produces tangible results for people in need.”

Do Good Campus, part of the Do Good Institute housed in UMD’s School of Public Policy, is a holistic, campus-wide initiative that aims to engage students in philanthropy, service and social entrepreneurship from the day they step on campus until they collect their diplomas—and beyond. Among its initiatives is the Do Good Challenge, a yearlong experience that draws more than 1,000 students each year. Students can focus on a particular cause or organization or create new ones; past projects have focused on combatting sexual assault on campus, reducing food waste, confronting the unjust imprisonment of journalists throughout the world, and more. Two alums of the challenge have been named to the Forbes’s list of Top 30 Social Entrepreneurs Under 30.

Robert T. Grimm Jr., director of the Do Good Institute, presented the program during the final pitch competition.

“What makes our approach innovative is that it harnesses the power of our campus and works across every school – from engineering to the arts and humanities, for example – to create opportunities for student engagement and impact,” Grimm said. “This model creates an on-ramp that can lead students from any major through a process of experiencing, learning and developing skills to innovatively create efforts that produce transformational results.”

Other finalists were New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and University of Texas at Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

Kate Leeman, a Voinovich School research associate, organized the challenge in partnership with the School’s special projects coordinator, Sarah Nykl. She said the inaugural competition highlighted the impact of public affairs schools across the country.

“We were excited about the quantity and quality of applicants,” said Leeman. “I know it was hard to choose between them, but we are thrilled with the exciting and ambitious Do Good Campus initiative as a winner.” 

The Voinovich School’s founding dean, Mark Weinberg, said the Challenge successfully honored Senator Voinovich’s legacy of empowerment.

The late senator served the state of Ohio for 44 years, including terms as mayor of Cleveland, governor of Ohio and U.S. senator. Describing the role he wished to play as a public servant, the senator said, “I believe the government’s highest calling is to empower people and galvanize their energy and resources to help solve our problems, meet out challenges, and seize our opportunities.”

“All of this year’s contestants offered exciting ideas for innovating public administration, policy and service,” Weinberg said. “We look forward to seeing what next year’s contestants dream up as we continue to work with students, faculty, and communities to promote growth, social impact, leadership and engagement.”