staff, October 30, 2015

How much does ?innovation? cost? Many people would guess well into the millions - or even billions - of dollars. And much of the time, they?d be right. But sometimes it costs little more than the spare change you can dig out of your couch cushions or the floorboards of your car.

At the University of Michigan, a new program called Innovate Brew is bringing together faculty from various disciplines, from aerospace engineering to social justice policy, to discuss what they?re doing and share ideas over a cup of coffee.

Michigan_coffeeInnovate Brew is an initiative housed under the university?s larger Innovate Blue program and co-sponsored by Michigan?s Office of Research. While Innovate Blue seeks to provide entrepreneurial opportunities to undergraduates, Innovate Brew is linking faculty in research-heavy disciplines to spur creativity and discussion.

?You have a good feeling when you hear the word ?innovation,? you have a good feeling when you hear the word ?coffee? - and you hear those two together and it creates a really good feeling,? explained Michigan professor and author Michelle Segar. ?It was the intersection of the social connection with creativity.?

Anita Gonzalez, head of the Global Theatre and Ethnic Studies minor, said her interest in the relationship between arts and technology caused her to join the program. She saw the program as an opportunity to look at her own work through a new lens.

?I met a guy in mechanical engineering, and even though we talked about what each of us did, he was remembering that they had an LED wall in their building, and that [it] could also be used for storytelling instead of just displaying signage,? Gonzalez said of one meeting. ?You get a new idea about your own field through conversations.?

Faculty who join the program are enrolled for a six-month trial period in which they grab coffee for 30 minutes with one fellow academic per month, although they can opt out whenever they need to.

[btn-post-package]For some participants, it can be difficult to balance these new opportunities with their regular commitments. Additionally, if pairings prove particularly fruitful, they may take a break from the program so they can pursue projects with their newly discovered colleagues.

?I met with two different people and then I stopped [Innovate Brew], because I was starting to explore things with both and I realized there really wasn?t time to explore new collaborations and keep meeting new people,? said Segar, who focuses on motivation science and serves as director of Michigan's Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center.

The program began this past summer, and as of now, it?s only open to research-active faculty members, but Innovate Blue director Oscar Ybarra commented that those are the people who often find themselves in the most insular of academic settings.

?I think many times what happens with faculty is that you kind of go through your career and end up digging deeper and deeper trenches in [your] disciplines, and don?t get out,? Ybarra explained.

By getting them out of their narrow areas, Innovate Brew aims to provide stimulation that goes beyond that of mere caffeine.

By Grant Rindner