New paper shares meaningful outcomes from UB’s Social Impact Fellows program

Hannah Christopher, Christian Homniyom and Kailey McDonald outside Harvest House.

One team of 2023 Social Impact Fellows worked on a project at Harvest House to increase access to medical and dental services in East Buffalo. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Published October 19, 2023


Michael Lynch

Michael Lynch.

Elizabeth Bowen

Elizabeth Bowen.

The University at Buffalo’s Social Impact Fellows program is the subject of a new paper by two UB School of Social Work faculty members in the International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

In the article, Michael Lynch, LMSW, clinical associate professor in field education, and Elizabeth Bowen, PhD, associate professor, analyzed and documented the program’s effectiveness in helping students understand social problems, collaborate across disciplines and develop critical skills.

The multidisciplinary Social Impact Fellows program brings students together from the UB School of Social Work, School of Management, and College of Arts and Sciences to create social innovation in Western New York. Working in teams of three with one graduate student from each school, the fellows research pressing social issues facing a local nonprofit, develop a solution and pitch their project at a culminating showcase event.

“The experience appeared to alter or reinforce the students’ career trajectories, with some students considering work in the social sector for the first time and others being more convinced of their intention to devote their careers to social justice,” the authors wrote.

As one student shared in the article, “Nothing else I have done in my academic career has given me such an empowering and meaningful experience to which I can look back on with pride and gratitude.”

Abstract: “Evaluating an Interdisciplinary and Multi-Pedagogical Approach to Equipping Students to Create Social Change”

Modern social problems are complex, multifaceted and challenging to solve. Scholars are increasingly applying the concept of social innovation as a path to addressing social issues. Social innovation is an interdisciplinary framework for producing social change that requires creativity, problem-solving skills and collaboration across systems. Higher education is progressively understanding the need to provide interdisciplinary educational opportunities for students; however, little is known about the effectiveness and impact of providing interdisciplinary learning experiences grounded in a social innovation framework.

This article describes and analyzes an interdisciplinary summer fellowship program focused on social innovation for graduate students in social work, business, and the humanities and social sciences. The program employs multiple pedagogical approaches, including classroom-based instruction, field learning and interdisciplinary teamwork. We used qualitative and quantitative pre- and post-evaluation student feedback to examine students’ learning and overall experiences.

We found that the fellowship was a dynamic learning experience, through which students strengthened their communication skills and translated academic concepts into practical ideas. The experience also impacted the students’ career trajectories, influencing students to pursue careers that involved working toward social progress in a variety of ways.