Creating a Culture of
Shared Knowledge

ITI Kickbox: How Innovative Thinking Helps Libraries and Empowers Communities

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In a recent Pew Research study, 65% of adults said that libraries help them grow as individuals, and 49% mentioned that libraries help them focus on things that matter in their lives. While these statistics are encouraging, Library Anxiety is a real phenomenon- the idea that even when one is in need of a librarian’s help, libraries can be pretty overwhelming spaces, which stops many patrons from asking for the help they need. Further, from searching for the best electric shavers in Consumer Reports to navigating online job applications, these quests for information can be highly intimate and personal.  As a graduate student in the Department of Library and Information Studies (LIS) at UNC-Greensboro, and as a volunteer in my local library’s downtown reference department, I became interested in how public libraries can leverage resources and space to create environments that encourage patrons to seek out help when needed and to empower individuals and communities with the information and tools they need to be successful in their own lives, on their own terms.

Enter Impact Through Innovation Kickbox. As part of my final coursework for my graduate degree, I had the opportunity to explore how innovation thinking could help libraries create more comfortable and accessible spaces for those seeking assistance. With a small cohort of other LIS students and the support of the library at which I volunteered, I explored how we could design resources and space to better support digital literacy education. The “ideate” step of Kickbox – seeking input from sources both within and outside the field, seeking insight by actively observing and thinking divergently about the problem – shifted my entire perception of researching and problem solving. I talked with individual experts in several seemingly unrelated fields – professionals working with individuals experiencing homelessness, IT professionals, educators, and the library patrons themselves. By asking questions, discussing observations with my cohort, and feeling free to think through “bad ideas,” I began to combine, capture, and investigate potential “solutions” to the problem I was considering. Ultimately, I presented an idea that built on a current library program – one that provides library patrons with one-on-one tech assistance – but was informed by insights gained through the ideation process. My proposed program would create a space with both the digital tools patrons needed and dedicated help from community members.  Community volunteers could engage with patrons that needed help and give patrons space and time to problem-solve for themselves, knowing that access, help, and support were ready when they were. The ultimate goal of the program was to “graduate” patrons from needing digital literacy help to offering that support in their own communities – taking the skills and help received in the library and sharing those outside the library, where they live and work.

With the support of ITI Kickbox, and through interactions with my cohort, teachers, library staff and patrons, I discovered the benefits of having “bad ideas,” experiencing unexpected turns, and heading back to the drawing board.  There is so much to learn from this process! I was able to present my idea to the library’s administration and, although the program may not have become part of the services offered by the system, I participated in an engaged conversation about what could work and what wouldn’t work. I believe a program and service like mine could really “move the needle” in terms of how public libraries provide information and instruction and, ultimately, empower communities. Today, as a reference librarian in a public library I regularly discover opportunities to share, connect, practice, and relearn the tools and processes introduced to me via ITI Kickbox. For me, embracing questions, finding answers in unexpected places, and giving myself the opportunity to reframe perceived failures have truly opened a world of innovation!

“Let’s Move in Libraries” and Let’s Build Community

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As a doctoral student I was curious about how public libraries and senior centers supported digital literacy among senior citizens and older adults.  Unexpectedly, I noticed that older adults talked quite a bit about their exercise when they visited these institutions – how to stay active, how to keep each other motivated.  They were talking about physical literacy.  I began researching what public libraries are doing to support physical activity, active lifestyles and physical literacy.  I’ve discovered that there is quite a bit going on and a lot of interest in doing more.

And that’s what led me to Impact Through Innovation, thinking about the data I’d collected, the webinars I’d been doing, and the website I was building.  I had questions about how I might take this phenomenon to the next level and give public librarians the support they need, to feel comfortable taking their spaces in this new direction.

ITI has supported the development of my “Let’s Move In Libraries” website (  One really powerful step was the vision plan – long-range thinking about sustainability of the project.  Thinking through what that would look like and what I would need.  Also, ITI helped connect me to a local web designer.  That was very helpful in making the site more user-friendly but also in the conversation we had about techniques to make the project more impactful, such as soliciting and sharing librarians’ success stories of librarians, to excite and animate people about what is possible.

The website now has three main components.  The first is a live, real-time map of where libraries are doing initiatives supporting physical activity across the country.  Some libraries will check out bicycles or have yoga classes in a meeting room.  Or they’ll have a story walk in which the pages of a children’s story are laminated and posted throughout a park.  There’s a huge variety of programs and services and it’s mostly a grassroots phenomenon.  The website captures that and, hopefully, inspire libraries to do new things.

The second part is the webinars that I offer.  As the project has expanded, I now receive requests to collaborate with other librarians and library groups to develop and deliver continuing education webinars. I am working with state libraries in Indiana and Iowa, and as well as with OCLC/WebJunction (a non-profit with the slogan ‘The Learning Place for Libraries’), the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, and the National Institute on Aging, to incorporate Let’s Move in Libraries into the continuing education webinars they offer. Through these collaborations, I am expanding our reach.

A room full of librarians get moving as part of a Let’s Move in Libraries session at the Association for Library Services to Children in Cincinnati, Ohio, September 28, 2018. 

The third component is shared resources, with this intention: “Here’s what I’ve been doing in my library and maybe you should try it.”  I’ve been compiling these resources so that they’re more easily discoverable.  I know from my research that many librarians experience challenges and growing pains with offering physical literacy programming, because it is new and not in their comfort zone.  So that’s what I’d like for the site to be – a place where librarians can go to find what they need to develop programs. See this sharing in action on our social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

For the last 10-15 years, the conversation has been about public libraries as community centers.  We even talk about the public library as the community’s living room – a place where you can relax and be with others.  The community-building aspect of the programs was surprising to me.  But it’s something that I’ve heard quite a bit about: in addition to the health benefits of participating in physical literacy programs, people feel like they are building community through a random assortment of people coming together to do something.

Office of Assessment, Evaluation, and Research Services

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Led by fearless leader John Willse, The Office of Assessment, Evaluation, and Research Services (OAERS; a division of UNCG’s Department of Educational Research Methodology) aims to make quality measurement and program evaluation happen in the Piedmont Triad, North Carolina, and beyond.  We do this by offering exceptional consulting services and technical resources in assessment, program evaluation, and data analysis AND by providing our ERM graduate students extensive hands-on, applied experiences to support their training and professional growth.  Through these two services, the ERM department delivers valuable research and evaluation support to organizations while also providing a rich training ground for the next generation of leaders in our field.

ERM faculty are superstars, and soon-to-be superstars within their fields, and we are incredibly proud of what we do in OAERS. Some of our clients include: UNCG University Libraries, North Carolina State Bar Board of Paralegal Certification, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, The National Folk Festival, US Lacrosse, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, UNCG Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) Team, and North Carolina Central University.

But with a name like ours/OAERS, we realized recently that we needed to improve our branding and web presence, to expand our name recognition, impact and reach.  That’s when we called upon Impact Through Innovation (ITI).

After an informative meeting with Scott Young we decided to apply for ITI funding, and our application was approved!  The ITI funds have allowed us to make some exciting changes.  We have developed a new website including updated content and professional graphic design.  In addition, we have developed a new series of eye-catching logos that brand OAERS with its parent department (ERM) and UNCG. The logos will be used in proposals, reports, presentations, and on our website.

We believe that OAERS can now be even more successful at meeting our goals as we have professionalized the presentation of the work we conduct. We expect the new and improved website to “become live” in February 2018.  Thank you, ITI!







Taking Creative Risks With Gate City Writes

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While teaching my English methods course with seniors, I asked students to write one or two sentences describing a writer. Sadie wrote: A writer is curious. She takes creative risks for the sake of discovering meaning in herself or the world around her. Other students wrote similar statements about the importance of articulating life experiences with one another and documenting a variety of perspectives. As English majors, most of their faces lit up when they talked about writing. Many shared the poetry they were writing, the half written novels, or the pieces of personal essays they were working on. They are writers taking their own creative risks in a pocket notebook or on a laptop at night when they should be sleeping.

When we talked about writing in the classroom, however, the conversation shifted. Students used words like rubric, scores, and achievement. Because most writing in school is focused on a standardized exam, writing instruction tends to focus more on writing as a product, rather than a process. The goal is to write to pass a test, rather than write to explore our curiosities. Yes, some students leave learning to write a decent argument or literary analysis. I’m doubtful, though, that most students leave saying, “I am a writer.” In fact, a former student of mine engaged in a teacher research study that resulted in that exact finding. In one class, she used The Writing Blitz, a boot camp style of teaching that prepared students for the end of grade exam focused on writing. Students scored well on the test, but left the class saying that they did not like writing and did not identify as a writer. In another class, students learned about the writing process and wrote in multiple genres. Here, students scored the same on the test, but left the class saying they liked writing and identified as writers.

With that dilemma in mind, we created Gate City Writes (GCW) to connect research in writing education to classroom practice by engaging K-12 educators and students with university faculty in a collaborative writing community. One aspect of GCW is the Young Writers’ Camp, created five years ago, that is held every summer at UNCG. Here, young people write, meet other writers, and learn about writing as a career. Our hope is to foster creative entitlement in these young writers. By creative entitlement we draw from the author Elizabeth Gilbert and poet David Whyte to mean taking creative risks that push people “out of the suffocating insulation of personal safety, and into the frontiers of the beautiful and the unexpected.” To take such risks, campers must believe they “have a voice and vision of [their] own “for their writing and teaching. What better way to do that, than by writing in a supportive community with other writers?

Hanging out with writing coaches

Writing at The Weatherspoon

 Showing off published work

Last year, we wondered what might happen if we invited teachers into this writing community. Our goal with the Gate City Writes Conference is to facilitate opportunities for teachers to write and teach writing alongside K-12 students in the form of professional development. We draw from the poet Mark Nepo who says that many writers get so hung up on preparing to “be” a writer that they forget to write. To elaborate, he says, “We [children] are being told to become a noun, and the vitality of life is in staying a verb.” Thus, teachers at the conference will focus on the action of writing, rather than on the preparation of those actions. Through an experiential learning approach, we will ask teachers to write and collectively discuss how to tap “the tools of the time” in order to improve learning and instruction for success in the classroom and beyond (Connected Learning Movement).

After pitching this idea to Dean Randy Penfield and Dr. Scott Young, and applying for an ITI Idea Development Award, we received strategic investment to expand the scope of GCW. We now have a logo, website and materials for our conference and camp in July. In May 2017, we held a book fair at Barnes & Noble to raise money to purchase materials for teachers who complete the GCW Conference. This event brought local writers and educators together to celebrate and support taking creative risks through some form of literacy (see pictures). As a learning community, GCW hopes to continue to foster opportunities for youth and teachers to, as my student Sadie described, discover meaning in ourselves and the world around us through writing. Come write with us this summer!

Caroline McAlister

John Bemis


Gate City Youth Slam Team

STEM Innovation Becoming a Reality in Elementary Classrooms

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Every once in a while, we get an idea for innovation. An idea that’s hard to let go of. We think about it each morning when we wake up and each evening when we go to sleep. We toss and turn over the idea. Not because of the idea itself but discerning how to make the idea a reality.

Aaron Krauss had an idea. He created a sponge for his car polishing business that had a piece of polyurethane in it. He found that this sponge cleaned his greasy hands and removed dirt on his lawn mower without scratching it.

But wait, that’s not all.

It also could be used to wash the family dishes and they dried quickly and resisted odor. He then improved the sponge by forming it into a happy face and cutting out holes for the washer’s fingers. He named it Scrub Daddy. He sold them at grocery stores and on QVC. However, the idea didn’t catch fire and revenue was barely enough to pay for the manufacturing. Then entered the Shark, Lori Greiner, from the NBC hit Shark Tank. She believed in Aaron’s idea even when other sharks wouldn’t touch it. Now, thanks to Lori’s support and mentorship, Aaron sells $50 million in sponges annually.

Aaron had a great idea but starting out he didn’t have the resources he needed or the backing from a mentor. Once he found those missing pieces, he had a thriving business and could put his focus back on the idea. He would later follow up with Sponge Mommy!

While not a sponge, my colleague, Dr. Heidi Carlone, and I struggled with something similar. We had an idea and put in hard work but we couldn’t get our idea beyond our office doors. The idea stemmed from previous work with sixty elementary teachers who taught marginalized and underrepresented students in STEM activity. They had attended our summer engineering institute and while they were initially excited and motivated to teach engineering, once they returned to school they began to doubt their ability given all the district constraints. In addition, many of them were the only teachers in their school practicing these skills and they felt isolated or alone. Our idea was the UNCG STEM Teacher Leader Collaborative in the School of Education, a structure to support and foster teachers’ growth in teaching engineering in a systemic way.

With 50 years of combined education experience, Heidi and I knew we had our Sponge Daddy but we needed our “Shark” who believed in it as well. We arranged visits with Dean Randy Penfield and Dr. Scott Young. They saw the possibilities as we did and maybe even more so. We applied for the Impact Through Innovation (ITI) grant. Randy and Scott explained to us that if accepted by ITI, we would receive seed money to help us develop our idea.

Fortunately, we received investment from Impact Through Innovation and because of it were able to make strides to bring our idea to fruition. With the ITI funds we were able to develop a logo, create a website, and host an evening reception followed the next day by our first annual STEM Teacher Leader Collaborative Summit. The reception led to donations from area businesses and alumni and that allowed us to purchase engineering materials that will serve hundreds of elementary students. The summit brought us 25 Teacher Leader Fellows who are committed to teaching engineering in their high need schools as well as being mentors, coaches and supportive colleagues for others. Four of these teachers have already written and received grants that will provide engineering materials, literature and guides for their classrooms. They are making strides in sustaining their own work and leadership in STEM.

While we are excited about our start, we know there is a great deal of work ahead. We are so thankful that Impact Through Innovation had faith in our work and invested in us. They were our sharks! But like Aaron, we want to move on to the next level, our own Sponge Mommy. If you are interested in our elementary engineering work, and think you might know a Shark who’s interested in supporting our work, visit our website Then contact Heidi or I! We’d love to talk to you.

Jennifer Mangrum, PhD

Heidi Carlone, PhD




Inaugural Blog Post

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This is the inaugural blog post for Impact Through Innovation, an initiative of the School of Education and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. As an academic who is also interested in the power of innovative ways of thinking, I hope that ITI will help you expand the impact of your ideas by supporting you in making new choices and engaging in new behaviors related to your unique intellectual life and work, and by extension those of your students and others. As a faculty member, you are highly trained, intelligent, and enjoy the support of a university organization that is well positioned to help you make a difference. Thus, you are in a unique position to impact the world.

At a recent conference I learned that the rate of entrepreneurship in the U.S. is half what it was a generation ago. People who teach entrepreneurship are uncertain why this is the case. This fact struck me as both surprising and revealing. Why in the modern world with so many possibilities, access to education, access to information and increasing wealth, would fewer people undertake the process of turning an idea into activities that positively shape the world? Although academics are not entrepreneurs, many of us care deeply about topics that can directly impact the lives of those around us and by extension work to improve our communities intellectually and economically. For example, many people outside of universities care about hiring folks who are skilled at communicating their ideas in writing. The School of Education has faculty members who are uniquely capable of making a difference in this area. Gate City Writes is one such initiative that trains pre-service teachers in how to teach writing while simultaneously teaching students how to write engaging stories.

In future posts, you will read about other initiatives of the School of Education and the innovative projects that are underway. To learn about the opportunities that Impact Through Innovation provides, please explore this site and reach out if you have questions.