How Universities Can Build on Classroom Knowledge to Tackle Social Gaps
Find out how SIT's new social innovation centre empowers students to take on community challenges.
Find out how the Singapore Institute of Technology’s new social innovation centre empowers students to take on community challenges.
In 2021, students from the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) designed the gamification features for a mobile application to help kindergarteners and their parents from lower-income households learn about healthy eating. Students and faculty members from diverse academic disciplines came together to gamify content that would appeal to the young ones and encourage parent-child bonding.
This is just one of the many projects currently facilitated by the Community Leadership and Social Innovation Centre (CLASIC) at SIT. Established in October 2020, CLASIC is a one-stop centre that curates, optimises and tracks community initiatives and projects across SIT, with the mission to deepen students’ understanding of societal needs and motivate them to draw on their knowledge to benefit the community beyond SIT.
Staying grounded in the community through SIT’s curriculum
CLASIC brings together SIT students and faculty to craft interdisciplinary, practical solutions to address community gaps. It taps on the university’s faculty members and Professional Officers’ research and expertise to propose solutions to real-life issues and challenges faced in the community. The Centre also collaborates with industry and community partners to provide expert knowledge and strengthen the resource pool for these student projects.
“CLASIC projects attempt to draw on the knowledge and skills of SIT students from degree programmes across various academic clusters and domains,” Prof Yaacob comments. Based on the requirements of each project, CLASIC garners the support of faculty members and Professional Officers with the relevant knowledge and skills to mentor the students in bringing the projects to fruition.
SIT is placing community at the core of its curriculum. From academic year 2022, incoming cohorts of all SIT programmes will have to undertake a credit-bearing Social Innovation Project module managed by CLASIC. Students will identify and develop solutions to address challenges or problems faced by identified beneficiaries in the community, and the society at large. The university is already piloting the module across five degree programmes in academic year 2021.
Both the integration of social context elements and the Social Innovation Project module in the SIT curriculum are overseen and managed by CLASIC.
“Social context allows students to better understand Singapore’s or the region’s challenges and opportunities, as well as the perspectives of different groups of stakeholders in Singapore or the region in specific social issues related to students’ disciplines of study,” says A/Prof Intan.
“The Social Innovation Project module allows students to collaborate with beneficiaries in the community on a current social issue or gap faced by that group, and co-create solutions to address that social issue or gap identified. By putting our students through these experiences in our SIT curriculum, we hope to develop our students to not just be industry-ready, but also socially-astute”, she adds.
Instilling a ground-up appreciation of social issues
CLASIC projects empower students to better understand the nuances of complex social problems and community needs.
This has proven to be a valuable learning experience for second-year Mechanical Engineering student, Ravichandran Pradeep Kumar, who was part of the student project team of a recently concluded engineering-based project. In collaboration with ECOSOFTT, an international water solutions social enterprise, and advised by their SIT Engineering and Design professors, the team created a smart water meter to help lower-income families track and optimise their water usage.
As engineering students, the team came into the project with the “mindset that completing the project meant success”, Pradeep reflects. However, they soon learnt that the beneficiaries’ needs and preferences was another essential consideration.
“From design considerations to safety and usage, our project revolved around ensuring the device did not cause any discomfort to the household members,” Pradeep shares. Unlike in a classroom setting, executing the project “with empathy for human factors and considerations” was what truly brought the project to life.
CLASIC has since awarded a S$15,000 grant to the team, led by Engineering faculty A/Prof Steven Tay, to further develop the product and to conduct a trial in rental flats, and the Singapore Plumbing Society has generously agreed to sponsor the installation of the devices in 20 pilot households.
Pradeep (far left) and his teammates from the SIT-University of Glasgow Mechanical Engineering programme, (from left) Shaun Yong Yu Zhe, Muhammad Hilmi bin Hut, Muhammad Zulhusni bin Jumat, Koh Liang Jie.
To support community engagement even outside of curriculum requirements, CLASIC’s project grant scheme funds students’ social innovation and community projects and connects the students with the relevant SIT teams or community partners who can help them realise their project ideas.
Nurturing compassionate and confident youths of tomorrow
Real-world impact is at the core of CLASIC’s projects. “The guiding principle and end objective is to enhance the quality of life of identified beneficiaries in the community,” Prof Yaacob says.
Students actively draw on their academic knowledge to craft projects. “We hope that in turn, the experience would inform their professional practice, and motivate them to do more within their profession and capacity to benefit the community beyond SIT,” Prof Yaacob comments.
CLASIC projects equip students with skills to excel beyond the classroom as well. “We live in a world full of uncertainties,” Prof Yaacob notes. Youths need to be “agile, resilient, and have a growth mindset” to tackle the challenges head-on, he adds.
CLASIC’s initiatives allow all students to better understand cultural or social differences and nuances in our society, learn to work effectively with people from different walks of life, strengthen their project management abilities, and build self-confidence – skills that have proven to be invaluable in and out of the workplace.
Since its inception, CLASIC has harnessed SIT students’ academic potential, supporting beneficiaries through practical solutions and innovations. With an expanded curriculum and growing support from industry stakeholders and community partners, the Centre is set to nurture thoughtful, empathetic and confident SIT students who are not just industry-ready, but socially-attuned, for years to come.
This article first appeared in GovInsider.