Graduate Changemakers Lab

Do you have an idea for how to make an impact on an environmental or equity issue? Need training, coaching and community to make it a reality? Are you a graduate or professional student from either the UMN Twin Cities, Rochester and Duluth campus? If so, apply to this interdisciplinary online cohort program to make your project a reality! Your idea for changemaking can be of any scope and type (e.g. a student group project, non-profit or for-profit venture, or public policy intervention) and can be a new idea or close to implementation. Participants who meet the program requirements will receive a $200 stipend at the end of the program and will also be prepared to successfully compete in the annual Acara Challenge for $5,000 to pilot their idea.

In previous years, Graduate Changemakers Lab provided the opportunity for a variety of innovative projects to be developed, addressing challenges in communities within Indonesia, Guatemala, Kenya, Minnesota, and others. Projects ranged from community-led tourism initiatives promoting sustainable development in specific communities to creating inclusive and environmentally sustainable menstrual hygiene management policies on campus. Read about last year’s projects here!

Details about the 2021-2022 Program

Dates: Cohort meetings will be held bi-weekly on Fridays from 1:00pm – 2:30 pm on the following dates: 9/17, 10/1, 10/15, 11/5, 11/19, and 12/3. Dates for the Spring session will be posted by the end of the Fall term. Participants will also be required to meet at least twice a month with a coach at Acara’s Impact Studios, which occur every Friday 10 am-12 and 1-3 pm.

Facilitation: The 2021-2022 Acara Graduate Changemakers Lab is led by two previous Graduate Changemaker participants and 2021 Acara Challenge winners: Karla Godoy De Costa and Jenny Tilsen. Information about other leaders and trainers who will be mentoring you throughout the program can be found here.

Applications for the 2021-2022 are closed. Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on upcoming opportunities!

Questions? Please contact

“I was able to complete a whole needs assessment..the human-centered design workshop really helped me focus on the community and what they want. The Community-based research session was also helpful,” – 2018 Acara Changemaker Lab Participant.

“Acara really helped me connect with a bigger network, [they] were a real springboard to other programs and workshops and helped me understand who to talk to as other questions develop,” – 2018 Acara Changemaker Lab Participant.

Learn more about the 2018-2019 Graduate Changemakers Lab Fellows!

Andrew Butts, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, MS Science, Technology, & Environmental Policy, 2019

This Isn’t Some Damn Game Company focuses on designing science and policy infused board games that are fun, educational, and empowering. With game concepts that address issues like Poverty, Justice, and Sustainable Limits, players are challenged to view issues through personal, social, and structural lenses while navigating tradeoffs and hopefully sharing a few laughs. We aim to design games that are as replayable in the home as they are instructional in the classroom and galvanizing in a community meeting.

Andres González, College of Science and Engineering, Ph.D. Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo-Engineering, 2019

My project, Measuring Pollution on the Run, will develop a wireless Mobile Autonomous Air Quality Sensor box (MAAQSbox) to measure air pollution using an urban bus as a platform. The main goal of this project is to provide inputs to an air dispersion model allowing calibration and refinement of the model. This will improve our understanding of urban air quality. Such understanding is necessary to implement and develop effective and efficient policies, plans, and strategies to reduce air pollution in cities. The success of the MAAQSbox may aid the democratization of knowledge because the MAAQSbox will provide inhabitants with access to real-time air quality data.

Hannah Legatzke, College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences, Ph.D. Natural Resource Sciences and Management, 2023

Community-led tourism initiatives have great potential to promote sustainable development by enhancing livelihoods for forest-dwelling communities through a non-consumptive use of the forest. The “Bikes and Boats in the Biosphere” project develops bike and boat rental programs in Yaxhá-Nakum-Naranjo National Park in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in northern Guatemala through a community-based tourism enterprise that simultaneously promotes the conservation of the rich archaeological history and tropical forests at Yaxhá and economic opportunities for surrounding communities.

Hannah Rusch, College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Sciences, MS Applied Plant Sciences: Agronomy and Agroecology, 2019

Evolving from the lessons learned trying to import coffee from southern Colombia, my project aims to explore organizational and human capacity building tools to develop leadership from within the ASOPROCAFFE coffee association of small coffee farmers. The goal is to continue supporting ASOPROCAFFE in their development as we continue to work through the challenges of opening up channels to import coffee to the U.S.

Jack Schneeman, Carlson School of Management, Masters of Business Administration, 2019

Thrive Goods promotes the use of safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, and oral rehydration solutions to reduce childhood dehydration-related deaths and malnutrition in lower-income regions, starting in Uganda. Thrive Goods does this through a one-for-one model by selling highly-demanded consumer goods in wealthier countries and using its proceeds to sustainably fund effective organizations that address the complex problem of childhood dehydration.

Juan Mogoginta, College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences, MS Food Science, Emphasis on Cereal Chemistry, 2018

Indonesia is a developing country that thrives on agriculture. Over 40% of the country’s total labor force is designated for the agricultural sector. Indonesia’s farming industry is divided into two groups: large plantations and smallholder farmers. In particular, my project will focus on smallholder farmers who normally own less than one hectare of land or rent land for farming. The aim of this project is to start a cooperative for farmers who grow similar crops within the same region. This synergy will allow farmers to work together to achieve the same goals. This project is a way to support the livelihood of farmers.

Julia Brokaw, College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences, Ph.D. Entomology, minor in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs

This project aims to break the seemingly impermeable boundary between prisons and the natural world by providing opportunities for inmates to gain experience in prairie restoration. This project focuses on developing restorative activities for inmates while simultaneously building collaborations between conservation researchers and prison staff where inmates grow prairie plants that can be used in restoration projects across Minnesota.

Meena Murugapan, College of Pharmacy, Ph.D. Social and Administrative Pharmacy, 2020

Educating Girls Everyday, Period! is a nonprofit program with a goal to sustainably improve menstrual health and hygiene among school girls in Meru, Kenya. Optimal menstrual health and hygiene have the potential to decrease school absences and dropout rates. The main focus of my project will be to help Educating Girls Everyday, Period! transition from regular to biodegradable sanitary napkins. This will include assisting with sourcing and designing the supply chain management system for biodegradable napkins. Local production of biodegradable sanitary napkins with locally sourced materials will also be explored. Additionally, past surveys of school girls in Meru have indicated that a significant barrier to attending school and paying attention during classes is menstrual pain and cramping. Therefore, this project will also include designing and implementing a menstrual pain management program that offers girls safe and effective pharmacological as well as non-pharmacological treatment options.

Michele Germaine Marquis Girard, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Masters of Development Practice, 2020

My project concerns a water storage system that was built in 2015 by me and my partner organization Tree of Hope Haiti. As of now, the water system is free for everyone and serves about 400 people per day. The goal of my project is to find a way to make this water system sustainable monetarily and to increase the community’s participation. This will hopefully be done through data collection, in-person surveys, and ultimately a community-hosted conversation.

Nasiba Nurmatova, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Masters of Development Practice

Today tourism is one of the leading industries in the economy and there is potential for sustainable development and employment opportunities. My project aims to develop  social entrepreneurship for tourism products and services development in Rwanda’s rural areas communities. I believe that any rural area has the potential and resources to launch social entrepreneurship and involve the local community to create opportunities. For the past 20 years, development shifted its concentration from economic growth to human development. Therefore, it is important to train and educate people, help them develop skills and empower them to start entrepreneurship.

Zoe Master, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Master of Development Practice, 2020

I aim to create comprehensive, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable menstrual hygiene management policies that schools can adopt in order to better serve, educate, and empower menstruating students throughout the United States. This will be done by leveraging the University of Minnesota’s innovative position as one of the first institutions to implement a policy that provides free menstrual products in restrooms.