“I wasn’t sure what to think when I first saw “Social Entrepreneurship” on the screen, but I am so glad to have taken the class! I feel like I am coming out gaining more knowledge than any class I have ever taken. Thank you!” -from a student evaluation

Sustainability and Social Innovation Residential Academic Program (SSI RAP) – 2015 Awardee

The Social Innovation and Sustainability Residential Academic Program (SSI RAP) at the University of Colorado Boulder was established in 2010 to provide an engaging academic and social environment for freshmen students living in the residential hall who want to solve complex problems that confront us. Students in the “SSI RAP” take two cornerstone courses in the residence hall: an Arts & Science “core” SSIR course called “Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainability” and an Engineering course called “Sustainable by Design.”  In both classes, students work on problem-oriented team projects requiring collaborative problem-solving, parallel academic readings and exams. Skills in critical thinking, human-centered design, debate, project development, oral presentations for external judges, and a deeper understanding of, and empathy for, the needs of people and the environment are incorporated.

A team of highly-qualified interdisciplinary faculty along with the RAP’s Faculty in Residence, resident graduate Teaching Resident Assistants (TRAs), and undergraduate Peer Mentors who also live in the LEED-certified building provide a ladder of mentoring and support. Each semester additional courses are offered to RAP students that satisfy the University’s core requirements but are taught in an interdisciplinary fashion, integrating the themes of innovation and sustainability. The SSI RAP team uses regular surveys to assess what is working and what isn’t and to adjust the curriculum in response to student comments.


The SSI RAP program is in its fourth year. With all freshman required to live in a residence hall, over 500 students have selected SSI RAP and taken the core SSIR course. Demand for this program over the four years has steadily increased.

Our evaluations indicate that SSI students:

  • Earn overall GPAs higher than the average Freshmen GPA
  • Are the most diverse of any RAP on campus, on any measure
  • Demonstrate increased knowledge of global issues, social entrepreneurship, and collaboration skills after the SSIR course

SSI student accomplishments include:

  • A safety “app” and a bike/longboard transportation model adopted by the University;
  • A social enterprise that engages student volunteers to teach elders about technology and encourages elders to share their stories with the students
  • An individually-structured “change-maker” degree path; promotion of human-centered design on campus;
  • Mapping of social entrepreneurship assets on campus and in the community, as the foundation for an “innovation framework” for the campus;
  • and enrollment of RAP “graduates” in Watson, an accelerator for young social entrepreneurs founded by Ashoka Fellow, Eric Glustrom.

The SSI RAP “Expo”, an event when student teams present their collaborative projects before external “judges,” has brought increasing visibility to the SSI RAP within the Boulder and Denver NGO and social enterprise communities. Within the university, the program is widely recognized by administrators, department chairs, and deans for the ability to attract and retain students.

How can people get involved in or replicate your innovation? 

The SSI model could be replicated, as a pilot, on a small number of public and private campuses that have a local champion and campus commitment to changemaking through an interdisciplinary model. Please note, this model was developed in the context of a large public R1 university. As the originator of the model, the SSI faculty and SEEDS (Social Entrepreneurship, Equitable Development and Sustainability) team could act as a consultant to universities and colleges, charging reasonable fees to cover time and travel costs.

The team can provide guidance on topics such as:

  • working with upper administration for support and approval for a RAP and “core” courses focused on social entrepreneurship/ innovation and sustainability;
  • creating incentive structures to recruit faculty interested in offering courses with an “innovation and sustainability” lens;
  • structuring ties and internships with local social enterprises;
  • developing mentoring structures

Contact information

Susan Clarke, Professor & Faculty Director of the Social Entrepreneurship, Equitable Development, Sustainability (SEEDS) Residential Academic Program at the University of Colorado Boulder, [email protected]

Francy Milner, Instructor & Associate Director, Center for Education on Social Responsibility at the University of Colorado Boulder, [email protected]

Stephanie Barnhizer, Program Assistant, Sustainability & Social Innovation RAP at the University of Colorado Boulder, [email protected]

Cordes Innovation Awards

In partnership with Cordes Foundation, Ashoka U seeks to recognize globally relevant teaching, learning, and partnership practices that may be adapted and replicated across the field.