In October, West Virginia University launched its first Academic Innovation Summit with more than 60 faculty and staff and community members. The two-day hackathon-style event was focused on “Creating Sustainable Rural Communities” — specifically, in Appalachia.

Dot Connector Studio’s Jessica Clark and Mark Glaser helped to support, design, and produce the Summit, drawing on Glaser’s past work producing Women’s Hackathons at WVU. Clark emceed the event and ran a design thinking workshop during the Summit, as well as giving teams support through the Impact Pack.

Frankie Tack, clinical assistant professor and addiction studies minor coordinator at the West Virginia University College of Education and Human Services, addresses attendees at West Virginia University’s inaugural Academic Innovation Summit. Oct. 23, 2021. (WVU Photo/Kallie Nealis)

Ten groups were given specific challenges to address issues plaguing rural communities, from making small-scale farming more sustainable to supporting the aging population. A review panel, consisting of WVU and outside experts, selected three of the resulting proposals and allocated $400,000 for funding across them.

One winning proposal, the Smart Ag WV project, will draw on data and automation to improve the efficiency and capacity of small-scale farming. Another, the Community Engagement Collaborative project, will provide mini-grants to support students who develop community-centered projects. Finally, the Visiting Neighbor Program will train senior citizens to “visit” neighbors to provide companionship and bolster health. 

“From the outset, we wanted this Summit to provide a platform for collaboration across disciplines, team building, and innovative thinking,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed. “As part of our transformation efforts, we want to support novel ideas that can generate new in-demand curricula, cutting-edge research, and impactful outreach. The reviewers believe these projects will contribute to one or more of those areas.” 

Read more about the inaugural Summit here, and see complete details about each of the teams and their proposed projects here

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