Consider Magazine: optiMizing Ideas

Some optiMize Core Team members spoke with Consider Magazine for the Michigan Bicentennial about the future of education



“Why not me?” This is the question that started the entire idea of optiMize. Our founders began optiMize out of frustration with their own college experiences. They found themselves surrounded by amazingly smart people, had access to resources, and opportunity to do interesting things, and yet they spent most of their time writing papers and taking tests… not actually creating things that make an impact. With the scale of social, environmental, and economic challenges society is facing, they felt that universities needed to become incubators for student projects. And thus optiMize was created.

optiMize began five years ago with just four Michigan students who had an idea. We now have over 2,000 in the optiMize community. The first year, we had about 19 teams in our Social Innovation Challenge, where we give teams the funding they need to create their own organization from a social innovation idea. That year we funded five projects, totaling $26,000. Since then, we have had 300 teams participate in optiMize and have raised more than 2 million dollars. Currently, we now have $200,000 to fund teams at our biggest Social Innovation Challenge yet.

Although funding is important to optiMize, we encourage teams to focus less on the financial aspect of optiMize and more on the importance of collaboration within our community. We want individuals to join optiMize because they are passionate about changing the world and want to interact with others who share this passion. We aid students in their endeavors by providing the connections and resources they need to make their ideas into a reality.

This past summer, our fellows met on a weekly basis to focus on their ideas’ progressions and overcome challenges together. Fellows ranged from projects like Seven Mile Music, which worked to put on a music and arts summer camp for students in the Brightmoor area, to LingoMatch, which worked to overcome the role of language barriers in food instability. Despite variation in organization structure and goals, the fellowship put all these aspirational students into one space to give them the support and community they needed.

While we’re proud of how far we have come, we still have much more to do. We want to expand the idea of optiMize campus-wide. While we already have about 2,000 students involved, this is just the beginning. The passion behind optiMize has proved to be contagious and we want all Michigan students to feel the same excitement we do about social innovation and entrepreneurship. With recognition from NPR, Forbes, and increasing support from LSA, we know that we’re not the only ones who believe in the innovation based future of education.

Our network of 2,000 has already increased the accessibility of STEM education in Peruvian high schools, harvested over 50,000 lbs of produce from urban farms in Detroit, and distributed millions of dollars of wasted medical supplies to hospitals in need. If the entire university got involved in optiMize, the structure of education would be very different from what it is today, becoming less focused on schoolwork and more focused on helping students express their creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial sides. We imagine that Michigan students would be committed to an education focused on making a difference and relentlessly pursuing a positive future. While we’re moving in this direction, we could be doing more.

With the media constantly reporting the negative, it can sometimes be hard to keep an optimistic mindset. Students should instead focus on the potential for positive change in the world. If we put the appropriate resources and trust in our student body, hold ourselves responsible for creating the world we want to live in, and utilize the knowledge that surrounds us, we can change the world ourselves.

We still have a far way to go and, instead of seeing it as a challenge, we see it as an exciting opportunity. optiMize is growing exponentially as each year passes and we are eager to watch our community expand throughout Michigan’s campus. This movement is driven by students continuously asking themselves: “Why not me?”