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Crowdfunding is crowd fun

What do a robot, a South African student and a library database have in common? They were part of Marquette’s first attempt at crowdfunding.

Students in Social Media Analytics launched seven campaigns on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform, and raised more than $23,000 to support autism research, student service trips, childhood literacy, international student housing and robotics.

“I was really surprised by the power of social media and how we can reach so many people who want to help,” says Liz Fitzgerald, Comm ’14, who helped raise money for the Hartman Literacy and Learning Center in the College of Education. The center works with Milwaukee-area elementary school children on reading skills. Donated funds will be used to buy an electronic database system for the library.

Crowdfunding is a new way to fund philanthropic, entrepreneurial and personal projects. It harnesses connections on the Internet. Groups or individuals “crowd source” funding by asking for small donations from a large number of people. It leverages the tools of the Internet, which make it easy for a donor to “click” on a project, designate a dollar gift and give.

One project raised more than $6,000 for the Humanoid Engineering and Intelligent Robotics lab in the College of Engineering, which builds “personal trainer” robots. With the help of these funds, the HEIR lab built a robot to represent the United States in the RoboCup 2014 Soccer Games and Conferences in Brazil in July.

Another project supported social and behavioral skills therapy for teens and young adults with autism spectrum disorders. The Marquette Program for the Enrichment and Education of Relational Skills lab in the Department of Psychology studies the connections between therapy and brain activity with fMRI scans. Marquette is the only site in the nation doing this type of research, says Dr. Amy Van Hecke, PEERS research director and developmental neuroscientist.

In their crowdfunding pilots, students planned social media strategies, then launched and promoted websites highlighting their projects. Using analytics to measure the success of their tactics was a priority for instructor Tim Cigelske, Comm ’04, social media director at Marquette. “Analytics and big data mean nothing,” he says, “if you don’t have a clear mission and something you want to accomplish.” EM

Learn more about Marquette’s entry at the RoboCup 2014 soccer games at marquette.edu/robocup.

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