Foresight course faculty members win IBM Smarter Planet award

Author: Carol Elliott

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Imagine a city where all the major elements of the infrastructure – transportation, utilities, technology – operate according to a “smart” plan, an integrated approach that conserves resources, accommodates growth and optimizes lifestyles.

Now consider how you would train today’s college students to develop those smart plans for the cities of the future – plans that draw ideas from business, science, IT technology and the liberal arts.

A team of University of Notre Dame business professors recently won an IBM Smarter Planet Faculty Innovation Award with their proposal, “Foresight for a Smarter Planet: Toward the City Sustainable.” Suzanne Coshow, Chad Harms and Samuel Miller, all associate professional specialists, teach a pioneering future studies course at the Mendoza College of Business, Foresight in Business and Society. IBM provides mentors to undergraduate student research teams in the Foresight class.

“One of the reasons IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative in particular is a great opportunity for us is that it requires cross-boundary, cross-function, cross-system collaboration and understanding, which is more than anything what the Foresight course accomplishes,” said Coshow. “We want our students to appreciate the big picture.”

IBM gave out a total of 50 of the $10,000 Faculty Innovation Awards.

“We need to focus on developing more advanced skills so that students around the world are equipped to tackle real-world issues when they enter the workforce,” said Jim Corgel, general manager of IBM Academic and Developer Relations. “The work of these 50 award recipients should help change the face of education by enabling students to work on pressing issues facing cities today – and at the same time prepare them for leadership in industries like health care and transportation.”

 The Notre Dame proposal lays out a plan for a teaching module aimed at helping students utilize foresight skills – trend analysis, systems management and problem solving toward a “preferred” future – in such a way that the curriculum can be used by a broad array of disciplines. It combines these skills with IBM’s extensive online library and interactive city-planning game, CityOne, for a module that can either be used as a stand-alone course element, or could provide a framework for an entire course.

The proposal calls for a team project that involves break-out groups focusing on different aspects of city planning, such as water, energy, transportation and housing. The teams research and develop plans centered on sustainability, utilizing various future scenarios. Their recommendations are then presented to the entire class, in order to address systems overlap and impacts. Together, class members then articulate insights and ideas toward the “City Sustainable” – a new city structure that employs more efficient use of resources, better growth plans and more citizen engagement.

Criteria for the Smarter Cities Skills Award submissions included a focus on steps that city leaders can take in transforming their municipalities to meet future needs in a more efficient way that has a positive impact on the lifestyle of their citizens. This includes such issues as the development of information technology in core city systems, becoming citizen-centric in provided services, and spurring creativity and knowledge-driven growth.

Foresight in Business and Society, a signature course at the Mendoza College that launched in fall 2009, focuses on the major trends expected to shape the world, and provides students with a framework for how to think critically about change and plan for it.  Given the dramatic shifts in society and business, particularly in the past decade, foresight skills should be considered fundamental for business leadership, said Carolyn Y. Woo, Martin J. Gillen Dean of the Mendoza College.

“You cannot lead if you don’t know what is coming at you, and where the opportunities for growth are,” said Woo. “Foresight in Business and Society exposes students to trends and helps them develop critical assessment skills, so they can understand the actions necessary for solving the big-picture issues.”

More information about IBM Smarter Planet Faculty Innovation Awards is available at:

http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/university/smartplanet/awards

A video about the award-winning proposal from Mendoza College Foresight team is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZSTJOnl7gs  

Contact Suzanne Coshow, (574) 631-0291 or scoshow@nd.edu.

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