UM Professor Sara Rinfret has become familiar to KGVO listeners for being the administrator of the Big Sky Poll, but she has also made a nationwide name for herself through innovation in the classroom.

Rinfret, the Chair of the UM Department of Public Administration and Policy, introduced a novel innovation in her classroom for the Masters in Public Administration degree.

“One thing we’re learned over the years is that fully one in three Montanans live 60 miles or more from a university, so what can we do to provide additional access for students to receive an education?” she asked. “We have been piloting over the last couple of years a robot that looks like an I pad on a Segue where students that are remote can log in once a week and they can move across the classroom, so it’s like they’re actually there in person.”

Rinfret said she decided to enter her innovative idea in a competition with her fellow educators.

“I competed a couple of weeks ago at our national public administration and policy conference against some of the big schools like USC Price and UNC Chapel Hill to demonstrate that what we’re doing is innovative to meet the needs of our students,” she said. “So, I won, and now we get to buy a new robot. Each robot costs about $3,000. The first two we wrote a grant and received funding. The award was for $3,500 and so we’re able to buy another one and some tech support to go along with it.”

UM views Rinfret’s accomplishment as an expression of SEA Change, a University initiative dedicated to empowering women and accelerating them into lives of impact by an unwavering commitment to their success.