The mission of the Acara Institute is to develop and launch businesses focused on societal change. However, we do that via university courses. While that is a means to an end from the mission standpoint, the education end is a very legitimate and important end in and of itself. Indeed, the education of several hundred students this semester alone, in the process of developing a viable social business, is a pretty important and meaningful outcome.

From an educator’s standpoint, Acara addresses both business and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) university education. The STEM field has been studied a lot, as these professions are so important to innovation and economic growth in any country. We’ve been doing some writing about this, this excerpt is a nice summary of the key elements of the Acara Challenge from an education standpoint.

From the academic literature, key objectives to achieving good STEM education include the following.

Motivating Students: Effective STEM education is engaging, generates enthusiasm, and provides opportunities for personal learning experiences. Students are intrinsically motivated when they study topics that are relevant to them and that speak to their goals, wishes, and ideals.

Creating Real-World Opportunities: Real-world, and socially relevant problems and interactions with the science and technology professionals provide the necessary relevance that motivates students to engage in life-long learning, and the necessary skills and competence to work on ‘real’ projects after the students graduate.

Using Best Practices from Teaching Methods: Learning methods that enhance the cognitive and meta-cognitive processes in students, such as Project-based and Inquiry-based learning, are proven to be effective in providing flexible learning and transferable knowledge that can be applied to other courses or in professional work.

Engagement in Interdisciplinary Processes: Many challenges facing companies and communities are too complex to be solved by individuals working alone. Effective STEM education enables students to work in teams and in collaboration with experts from other fields, to gain understanding and new insights in multiple dimensions (e.g., social, economic, cultural) of an science or technical issue. .

Use Information Technology Creatively: A typical student entering his/her undergraduate education in 2010 has not known a world without computers and the Internet. Students use email, the internet, and other technologies to connect with friends, make purchases, share pictures, and learn about the world.

Build Local and Global Communities: Effective STEM education allows students to connect with others, locally and globally, through cross-cultural interactions built around a common area of focus. After graduating, students must be prepared to work competitively across geographic boundaries, and in an increasingly global economy.

The Acara Challenge is an innovative response to those goals.  Acara uses competition and problem-based learning in a multi-university international curriculum to engage and invigorate students in STEM.

Fred Rose