Colorado Springs higher ed institutions team up on first-of-its-kind collaboration

A community college, a state research university, a private liberal arts school and a U.S. military academy have joined forces in Colorado Springs for the betterment of their community and student bodies.

The Quad Innovation Partnership rounds up students from Pikes Peak Community College, the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Colorado College and the U.S. Air Force Academy to tackle project-based work for local industry. Beneficiaries of the program say it allows bright, young minds to share their fresh perspectives that organizations need to succeed in the future while creating a space for eager learners to put their unique skillsets to the test.

“The idea of getting a middle-aged student from our welding program together with a well-pressed Academy cadet, a CC undergrad and a UCCS student, working on a project to benefit our community — what an inspiring thing,” said Lance Bolton, president of Pikes Peak Community College.

Jake Eichengreen, executive director of the Quad Innovation Partnership, said the program, which is in its fourth year, is the first partnership of its kind in higher education.

Students from different areas of study are encouraged to apply. Those admitted are put into groups for a mixture of independent projects and teamwork — now done largely through video calls due to COVID-19. Most students receive a stipend for the 10 to 15 hours of work a week they’re asked to complete outside of their class schedules.

Students from Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College and CU Colorado Springs are awarded $1,350 during a semester and $1,000 for the abbreviated summer term. Air Force Academy cadets don’t receive pay due to federal regulations, but will be receiving academic credit in the future.

“It runs like a consulting program where our partners are supporting the full cost of whatever they’re asking us to do,” Eichengreen said. “We have small teams of students that are professionally managed and coached by faculty advisers. We’re offering the research capacity of these undergraduates who are good at collecting information and synthesizing it and giving the people data-driven, informed information. Plus, students are gaining really great professional skills out of it.”

Quad students have put their heads together for projects including suicide prevention work; researching ways to improve quality of life for seniors, which informed the development of local affordable housing; and collecting information to help solidify public policy for municipal entities. Tasks range from community engagement work, survey creation and data collection, data analysis and interviewing local stakeholders.

“The data my team and I collected from local high schoolers and other stakeholders supported the adoption of an official goal to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2030 and 90% by 2050,” said Cadet 3rd Class Manmeet Pelia of the Air Force Academy, who worked on a Quad project about the future of energy in Colorado Springs. “When my team heard of this decision and our impact on the decision making, it was such an incredible feeling.”

Devon Martinez, a 24-year-old UCCS student who started in the Quad when he was at Pikes Peak Community College, has signed up for three rounds of the program.

“I knew it would make me uncomfortable, and I needed that,” Martinez said. “I think most people would be uncomfortable when you’re thrown into a thing where you have four weeks to find out how to help elderly people in an apartment complex with a group of people you don’t even know. You’re responsible with coming up with the plan and working with the client and telling the client your plan, and that’s nerve-wracking because you don’t even know if it’s a good idea.”

Bob Cope, economic development manager for the city of Colorado Springs, said his department has benefited greatly from the work of Quad students.

Cope is working with the students this semester on how to best utilize federal opportunity zones in Colorado Springs as an economic tool, particularly during the financially-damaging COVID-19 pandemic. The zones allow new investments in certain low-income communities to have preferential tax treatment, Cope explained.

“We think it’s a great opportunity to harness the brain power of these really intelligent young people and bring a fresh viewpoint to problems that are challenging,” Cope said. “It’s a way to connect young people to the community — get involved with community issues and understand the community better — and hopefully retain some of those people when they graduate so we can keep that brain power here.”

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