Global Idea Exchange Fellows Go Global


On October 1, 2012, NYU students were posed with a question: “How might we activate the potential of cities to ignite a modern renaissance?” More than 1,600 responded during NYU’s first Global Idea Exchange (GIE), an initiative implemented as part of NYU’s commitment to being a global network devoted to international collaboration and cooperation. Using a customized online collaborative platform based on OpenIDEO, the GIE ignited the imagination of students from every school in the university -- including NYU Abu Dhabi, the College of Arts and Sciences, Gallatin, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, NYU-Poly, the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, Steinhardt, Stern, Tisch, and Wagner.

Charlotte Evans, of the College of Arts and Sciences, explained, “The GIE allowed us to dream big but encouraged practical ideas that could realistically be put in place.” Evans had taken part in online forums about social issues before, but this was her first experience with such an innovative and collaborative platform. “It’s a much more dynamic, interactive experience than going on Facebook,” she said.

Sara Albassam, of the Tisch School’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, concurred.  “I had never seen the creative process broken down in such a clear, concise way before,” she said. “Even though I study in a program in which we’re required to come up with ideas on a continual basis, it can still be daunting, but the platform was incredibly helpful.”

Evans and Albassam are among the 18 students from across the entire university chosen as GIE Fellows. Over spring break, the group will be flying to Shanghai—a city chosen to celebrate NYU’s newest degree-granting campus--to continue to develop the six top ideas chosen from a pool of more than 200 submitted.

Jean-Claude Cantave, a graduate student in NYU’s Department of Biology, will be working on a project dubbed the “Platform Professor,” which he hopes can be implemented in subway systems around the world. “I see so many people playing games on their phones while waiting for their trains,” he explained. “Wouldn’t it be great if they used that time instead to learn something?” He envisions providing entertaining educational videos in the stations — perhaps backed by corporate sponsors. “For example, a company that sells bottled water could produce a video about aquifers,” he explained. “I would want the content providers to have fun and be creative while producing a real learning experience for commuters.”

Educational opportunity is also on the mind of NYU-Poly’s Shirley Wu, who has focused on the idea of using public and private infrastructure to benefit the community. “A company like Best Buy has dozens of computers sitting unused at points during the day and the personnel to teach people to use them,” she said, giving one example. “It would be wonderful if those resources could be made available to people who don’t otherwise have access to the technology. The same thing applies to schools during the off-hours. Why not use those facilities more fully?”

Among the other top ideas that will be expanded on in Shanghai are: fostering industrial symbiosis so that waste products from one industrial process can serve as the raw materials for another; a thorny networking problem that NYU-Poly’s Bertha Jimenez and Nilufer Polat will tackle along with their teammates; and “Reclaim the Floor,” a public-art effort that Stefania Siciliano, an NYU-Poly electrical engineering student, hopes will see city streets festooned with eye-popping paintings. “I’ll be working with Sanyu Kisaka from Abu Dhabi and Katie Hood from Steinhardt, so it’s going to be an exciting collaborative effort,” Siciliano said.

Many of the NYU-Poly students saw the chance to participate in the Global Idea Exchange as an opportunity to expand their horizons beyond the strictly technical. Gilbert Aning, who will be working along with Stern’s Pablo Zadicoff on a more theoretical GIE project called “Time Renaissance,” to encourage people to think differently about the concept of time and how we use it, said, “I wanted to do something that had nothing to do with engineering for a change, so studying with Professor Anne-Laure Fayard [who uses the OpenIDEO collaborative platform in her class and who was instrumental in getting the GIE off the ground] was great.” Those from other schools, conversely, welcomed the chance to work with Poly’s student engineers. “Anne-Laure’s design thinking course was the first I ever took at Poly,” Dina Gold, a Gallatin student who will also be collaborating on the Platform Professor in Shanghai, enthused. “I can’t wait to take more. These were the best students I ever worked with.”

Fayard is gratified to see students from every school in NYU working together so eagerly. “That kind of collaboration is key,” she asserted. “The innovation process requires it. Cross pollination helps people think in new and different ways.”  She continued, “Beyond being a great opportunity to connect all 16 academic sites and 55,000 students—not to mention the faculty and staff who participated—the GIE was an experiment with new ways of thinking about education, particularly experiential, practice-based and collaborative learning.”

Jessy Hsieh, the Assistant Director for Graduate Education at Stern, who is deeply involved in the GIE, agrees that the experience is opening new vistas in education. “We had students participating around the world—and around the clock. At a Global Network University, ideas never sleep.”
Upon their return from Shanghai, the Fellows will be charged with spreading the word about the GIE and inspiring other students to participate in future challenges. “Higher education is increasingly focused on both collaborative effort and addressing real-world problems,” Gold said, “so initiatives like the GIE are really important, and I hope all NYU students get involved.” 

Fayard acknowledges that the GIE Fellows have a lot of hard work ahead of them. “They’ve gone through the ideation phase, and in Shanghai they’ll refine their ideas further,” she said. “They’ll have to think on a very practical level—who are their users and stakeholders, how they can get grants or other type of funding, how they can get the permissions needed--so that their ideas can become real.” (Administrators hope that some of the projects might end up as entrants in Poly’s Inno/Vention competition or the Entrepreneurs Challenge at the Berkeley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Stern.) Cantave echoed the sentiments of many of the GIE Fellows, saying, “I’m looking forward to going to Shanghai and meeting new mentors there, but it will be really great to return to New York and work to see my project become a reality.”