Skip to main content

Social Innovation Apprenticeship


Overview of Program

The Social Innovation Apprenticeship is a 12-week program for Vanderbilt undergraduate and graduate students who have successfully completed a partner program in the Social Innovations practice area (Map the System, Social Venture Think Tank, Local OACS, Global OACS, etc.). As an internship-style program, students work alongside an organizational partner to build a greater understanding of their chosen social or environmental topic and create a relevant deliverable for their partner using the human-centered design process. Throughout the program, students document their apprenticeship journey through a medium of their choice (audio, video, photography, writing, etc.), with the intent of sharing their “mastery” of the subject with the greater Vanderbilt and Nashville communities.

Program Motivation

Traditionally, apprenticeships served as opportunities for students to develop skills by practicing them in real time. By working directly with partner organizations to develop deeper understandings of a social or environmental issue, students gain meaningful personal and professional experiences that prepare them for future careers in social entrepreneurship, the non-profit sector, public policy, and more.

Program Goals, Objectives and Outcomes

Students contribute 10-15 hours of work per week during the 12-week duration of the Social Innovation Apprenticeship program. Students work directly with their partner organization to establish meaningful research directives and projects that 1) advance their understanding about a particular social or environmental issue and 2) make meaningful contributions to the partner organization’s existing work. Every two weeks, students check-in with their partner organization, program leaders, and other Social Innovation Apprentices, sharing their progress through their creative documentation method. Through participation in the Social Innovation Apprenticeship, students accomplish or gain:

  • Immersive research into a specific issue area of their choosing
  • One or more relevant project deliverables for their partner organization
  • Creative, self-reflexive documentation of their apprenticeship journey
  • Leadership and project management skills
  • Thorough understanding of human-centered design and systems thinking
Finding Organizational Partners

Prior to applying to the program, students are required to identify and build a relationship with an organizational partner they would like to work with throughout the duration of the program. Students might meet their organizational partner through participation in a pre-requisite program like the Social Venture Think Tank, Local OACS DIVE courses, among others. In this case, students may begin a project with an organizational partner in a co-curricular program or course at Vanderbilt, and then opt to continue working with their community partner through the Social Innovation Apprenticeship program. In other cases, a student may learn through coursework or co-curricular activities that they are deeply interested in learning about, and gaining experience related to, a specific social or environmental challenge. In these cases, a student may reach out independently to a prospective organizational partner and invite them to be their partner for the duration of the Social Innovation Apprenticeship program. Students who opt to build a relationship with an organization they have not worked with before are encouraged to meet with a SIA program leader or affiliated program leader to develop an outreach and relationship-building strategy.

How do students apply? 

Students are eligible to apply to the Social Innovation Practice Program upon participation in Vanderbilt University coursework; co-curricular or extracurricular programs and activities; or, other personal, professional, or academic experiences that introduce them to their social or environmental challenge of interest. Candidates with prior foundational knowledge of, or experience with, a particular social or environmental challenge are given first consideration.

Applications will open in the Spring term of each academic year.