Academic Support Graphics U-M
Academic Support Graphics U-M
Academic Support Graphics U-M

The future of learning

The Center for Academic Innovation creates global access to U-M’s educational excellence, inspiring many to give back

By Eric Gallippo | Art by Graciela Demerath

As a college student living outside of the United States, Bryan Chang isn’t having the traditional Michigan experience. But that’s not keeping him from learning and growing along with the Leaders & Best.

Bryan Chang
Bryan Chang

More than 9,000 miles from Ann Arbor at home in Singapore, Chang has taken several free online courses through U-M’s Center for Academic Innovation (CAI) that are already making a difference in his academic career and future professional life.

“The courses I took have helped me gain the skills I need to be future-ready as a student graduating from college and also enabled me to attract the notice of recruiters,” he said.

Inspired by his experience, Chang made a gift to CAI for Giving Blueday in March 2021, joining more than 600 donors from places like Kazakhstan, Ghana, India, Australia, Qatar, and Germany who responded to the center’s solicitation for U-M’s annual day of giving after participating in one of its non-degree classes.

“The work CAI does to make quality education widely accessible to learners all over the world is a worthy cause,” Chang said.

That work is growing fast; founding Executive Director and Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation James DeVaney said global enrollments doubled between 2019 and 2021.

“In the last 10 years, we have had more than 16 million enrollments in our online courses from nearly 10 million unique learners from more than 195 countries,” he said.

Torben Dragquist
Torben Dragquist

For Torben Dragquist, of Copenhagen, Denmark, taking a similar course was a formative experience that helped his career as an electrician. Today, he’s working to give power plants a greener profile.

“The course made such an impact on me that I would like to help support Academic Innovation when I get the chance,” Dragquist said.

Launched as an initiative in 2014 and established as a university center in 2019, CAI helps U-M faculty, staff, and students leverage networked access to information, new modes of teaching, data analytics, and technology to widen Michigan’s global reach, strengthen student engagement, and promote learning as a lifestyle.

To learn more, we caught up with DeVaney to discuss private philanthropy’s role in this rapidly growing effort and how CAI fosters lifelong learning in support of the university’s mission of creating a better world.


The Center for Academic Innovation received a tremendous response from online learners to its 2021 Giving Blueday solicitation. What did you think when the results started coming in and what did that signify to you?

James DeVaney
James DeVaney

We were truly inspired that so many of the lifelong learners we’ve reached around the world gave the gift of learning on Giving Blueday. We’re proud to have built a global community that is curious, kind, and compassionate.

With technology, we now have the ability to dramatically expand equitable access to higher education, provide more inclusive learning environments, and facilitate ongoing excellence through lifelong learning at a global scale. Millions have already benefited from these efforts, and the generosity of our donors will help us extend U-M’s mission even further.


Why are access, equity, and public engagement so important in higher education today? How is CAI a leader in those spaces?

We see U-M’s commitments to access, equity, carbon neutrality, and public engagement as inextricably linked. Progress toward each of these priorities reinforces the others, and collectively accelerates our pursuit of a more healthy and just world.

We are helping people prepare for the future of work, advance and change their careers, and positively change their communities. We approach innovation not as an outcome or a goal, but as a set of repeatable processes designed to discover what works, and then scale those changes across the institution and across higher education.


Michigan online screen image

Why is CAI’s global reach so impactful?

As we extend our reach and increase engagement with a growing global community, we are imagining new and transformational approaches to prepare learners to address society’s most complex problems.

Through our stackable programs and pathways to U-M, we are seeing learners engage in our open courses and then move on to enroll in both online and residential degree programs. At the same time, thanks to alumni lifetime access to Michigan Online, we are seeing alumni who graduate from our degree programs remain closely connected to Michigan and each other through online courses, teach-outs, and a wide range of learning experiences.


What is the role of philanthropy in the future of CAI and in creating access to affordable, flexible learning, all while remaining “excellent?”

Philanthropy will continue to play an essential role for CAI and for U-M as we continue to transform higher education. In a relatively short amount of time, we’ve managed to unlock U-M’s breadth of excellence to provide access to millions of learners. We’ve created opportunities for students on campus to co-create and personalize their U-M experiences through new educational software developed at CAI and through extended reality experiences created through our XR Initiative.

We’ve laid a foundation for a truly global learning community with shared values for a better world and shared motivation to learn with and from each other. We believe our donors will continue to share their insights and resources to help transform higher education and leave a legacy of innovation and impact.


Why I gave

Graphic Hand with heart

On Giving Blue Day 2021, U-M’s Center for Academic Innovation received more than 600 gifts from donors from more than 80 countries. Many had participated in free courses from CAI’s Michigan Online portfolio. Here’s what a few of them had to say about why they gave.

“I hope my gift will enable students who are unable to study in a U-M academic program to continue benefiting from the excellent programs Michigan offers and allow U-M to produce more engaging and interactive open online courses in the future.”
Bryan Chang, Singapore


“I want to help U-M continue and expand its online learning experiences.”
– Polina Danilova, Vienna, Austria


“I wanted to contribute so others can benefit from innovation. I find innovation interesting and would love to donate more some time.”
– Torben Dragquist, Copenhagen, Denmark


“I wanted to return the opportunity given to me.”
– Vitor Neves Hartmann, São Paulo, Brazil

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