University of Iowa

What is Engaged Social Innovation?

 “A social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than current solutions. The value created accrues primarily to society rather than to private individuals.” -Stanford Graduate College of Business

ESI Fieldwork Class
The Engaged Social Innovation (ESI) major track is designed for innovators and doers. Highly-motivated students are encouraged to seek out and develop new solutions to social problems. Paired with an existing major or custom-designed as a stand-alone interdisciplinary major, the ESI track enables students to apply their learning in real world settings. It prioritizes the experiential component of education, and also helps students construct personal and professional networks with community partners.

ESI students receive instruction in entrepreneurship, rhetoric, and community-building as well as in disciplines determined as necessary and selected by the students themselves. This coursework is designed to prepare them for their capstone project. Specifically, ESI students use their preparatory coursework and personal vision for social change into the field and work with a variety of partners to test and implement their capstone projects. ESI graduates leave the program with both the traditional coursework and background of other undergraduates, but they also have fieldwork experience, community contacts, and a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities in bringing about social innovation.

ESI meets the Lt. Gov


Review the ESI Curriculum  ESI Staff Directory

Read Student Testimonials & ESI in the News

Interested in ESI?

Contact Andy Tinkham at to get started or learn more!

Learning in the Real World

Here are some examples of students who have developed innovative solutions to social problems; solutions that are more effective, efficient, and sustainable:

  • Ben, a GWSS major, worked with the Center for Human Rights to examine the food needs of University of Iowa students. After organizing a public forum to determine whether an on-campus food bank was needed, he helped launch Food Pantry at Iowa.
  • Emilie, an art major, worked on a project that brought printmaking to middle school girls as a tool to discuss body image, positivity, kindness, and self-worth.
  • Christina, a theater major, is currently writing a play based on the research I am doing regarding immigration policy reform.
  • Shannon, a Journalism and Mass Communication major, is currently interning in London with Edspace, an edtech coworking space to create programming that promotes interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation between university professors and students, in conjunction with Empowering Futures. She included this creative project in her curriculum before moving onto to piloting her own creative innovation program for university students in Iowa City as her capstone next spring.
  • Sydney, a Health and Human Physiology major, combined science and art to create an intervention that increases breastfeeding acceptability in undergraduate students. This involves creating a video, testing the videos success, and publish a report.
  • Jessica, an English major, worked with the Department of Religious Studies to open a dialog within elementary school children about religious tolerance and breaking down religion-based stereotypes in order to build up a positive experience surrounding faith and religion.
  • Gina, a Psychology major, worked with a team on a research study in the UIHC Emergency Department that involved administering surveys to increase trauma-informed care and connect patients to resources. She will look at the resources that are being used to examine gaps within the system.
  • Kalena, an Art major, worked on researching educator sexual misconduct, the process of reporting sexual violence, and how survivors can benefit from art and writing.