University of Kansas wins second annual Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge

Shannon Portillo, assistant vice chancellor of undergraduate programs, won the Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge at NASPAA through her successful pitch focusing on collaborations with community colleges to interest young people in public service.

Dr. Shannon Portillo

Story from Ohio University's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs

ATHENS, Ohio (Nov. 5, 2018) – The University of Kansas (KU) School of Public Affairs & Administration was the winner of the Second Annual Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge, sponsored by Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, in conjunction with the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) during their 2018 annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. Shannon Portillo, the assistant vice chancellor of undergraduate programs at KU Edwards Campus and a professor in the KU School of Public Affairs & Administration, presented their innovative winning project, “Collaborating with Community Colleges in Pathways to Public Service,” in the pitch competition and went on to win the top prize.

“Our collaboration, the Johnson County Community College-KU Edwards Campus Public Service Community, centers the transfer student experience and brings together different sectors of higher education to reinforce and diversify the pipeline into public service,” Portillo said.  “The JCCC-KUEC Public Service Community provides access to explore career pathways and engage with alumni, building not only an educational foundation, but a strong network of mentors.”

The other three competition finalists were:

  • Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College, which pitched the Heinz Policy Lab, a graduate course aimed at addressing real-world policy issues;
  • George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, which partnered with the consulting firm, The Berkley Group, to create a public-private partnership that addresses challenges of continuity planning in Virginia local government;
  • University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy, which pitched their master’s program, “Creative curriculum to promote applied work in community development.”

Laurel McFarland, the executive director of NASPAA, praised the Voinovich School’s dedication to public service in offering the Innovation Challenge.

“Social innovation is a rising segment of public affairs education, and it is great to see Ohio University's Voinovich School stimulating this through a competition, and to have witnessed four NASPAA schools participating with their enthusiastic pitches,” McFarland said. “This is the future!”

One of the judges included Dr. Robert Grimm, director of the Do Good Institute part of the

University of Maryland School of Public Policy and winner of last year’s inaugural Voinovich Innovation Challenge.

"The Do Good Institute was honored to compete in the first-ever Voinovich Public Innovation Challenge.  We need more 'Shark Tanks for Academics' that spur innovations in higher education.  At Maryland, we're harnessing the power of the entire campus and working across every school - from engineering to the arts and humanities - to create an on-ramp of educational experiences that can lead students from any major through a process of experiencing, learning and developing skills to create efforts that produce transformational results." 

The pitch competition was created to honor the late Sen. George Voinovich, who encouraged others to design and deliver practical solutions to challenging public problems, to expand higher education public-private partnerships, and, most importantly, to educate, mentor and develop people engaged in public service from every sector and walk of life.

"George Voinovich's extraordinary success as senator, governor and mayor was due in great part to his being a pioneering master of collaboration," James E. Austin, Harvard Business School, said in reference to Sen. Voinovich’s final book prior to his death in 2016, “Empowering the Public Private Partnership.”

This year's theme, “Collaborative Partnerships,” was chosen in recognition of the late Sen. Voinovich's deep commitment to cross-sector collaboration as a powerful tool for producing effective, efficient public services.

“This highly competitive competition featured four great presentations on innovative approaches to important public challenges,” Dr. Jason Jolley, Voinovich School associate professor and MPA director, said. “The judges and the audience members were impressed with the quality of work and novel practices employed by each university.”

All four finalists had an opportunity to present their program publicly at the 2018 NAASPAA conference, and a chance to win a $3,500 award to further the program.

Competition entrants were scored based on seven factors, including the importance and difficulty of the issue addressed, the likely effectiveness of the solution, and the innovation’s response to the unique needs of an underserved population.

Media Contact: Laura Alloway, Director of Marketing and Communications, Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, at or 740.597.2579 or Samantha Pelham, media relations specialist, at or 740-597-1939.

About the Voinovich School
Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs is a catalyst for regional, state and national collective impact in the areas of economic development and entrepreneurship, energy and the environment, and public and social innovation. The School is a leader in addressing rural and state issues of national importance. By blending real-world problem solving and government, nonprofit sector and industry partnerships with education, students are offered unique learning opportunities as they prepare for careers serving the public interest in Ohio University's rural region and beyond. For additional information, visit the Ohio Voinovich School website

About Ohio University
Ohio University strives to be the best student-centered, transformative learning community in America, where approximately 40,000 students realize their promise, faculty advance knowledge, staff achieve excellence, and alumni become global leaders. OHIO is committed to fostering, embracing, and celebrating diversity in all its forms. Our Athens Campus offers students a residential learning experience in one of the nation’s most picturesque academic settings. Additional campuses and centers serve students across the state, and online programs further advance the University’s commitment to providing educational access and opportunity. Visit the Ohio University website for more information.

This release originally published on Ohio University

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