123 U.S. Students Named University Innovation Fellows by NSF-Funded Epicenter

For Immediate Release
February 24, 2015

Media contact:
Laurie Moore
Communications Manager, Epicenter
(650) 561-6113

123 U.S. Students Named University Innovation Fellows by NSF-Funded Epicenter

(February 24, 2015) — 123 students from 51 U.S. higher education institutions have been named University Innovation Fellows by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter).

The University Innovation Fellows program empowers students to become agents of change at their schools. The Fellows are a national community of students in engineering and related fields who work to ensure that their peers gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to compete in the economy of the future. To accomplish this, the Fellows advocate for lasting institutional change and create opportunities for students to engage with entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity, design thinking and venture creation at their schools.

This new cohort of Fellows brings the total number to 291 Fellows from 114 schools. The program is run by Epicenter, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University and VentureWell (formerly NCIIA).

“In today’s competitive economy, it is critical for all students to learn an entrepreneurial mindset, which helps them learn to be resilient, creative and empathetic,” said Humera Fasihuddin, co-leader of the University Innovation Fellows program. “Students need to leave school better prepared to tackle our world’s big problems and create new and fulfilling jobs for themselves and others.”

“Our program provides a platform for Fellows to learn to be strategic thinkers, examine the landscape of learning opportunities at their schools, and formulate action plans to implement their ideas,” said Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, co-leader of the Fellows program and Deputy Director of Epicenter. “Fellows develop a community and share strategies about what’s working at their schools. Ultimately, these students, with their drive and motivation, are leading accelerated change in higher education.”

Individual Fellows as well as teams of Fellows are sponsored by faculty and administrators at their schools and selected through an application process twice annually. Following acceptance into the program, schools fund the students to go through six weeks of online training and travel to the University Innovation Fellows Annual Meetup in Silicon Valley. Throughout the year, they take part in events and conferences across the country and have opportunities to learn from one another, Epicenter mentors, and leaders in academia and industry.

Fellows have created design and maker spaces, founded entrepreneurship clubs and organizations, worked with faculty to design new courses, and hosted events and workshops. In the last academic year alone, Fellows created 553 activities, 22 new spaces and 65 innovation and entrepreneurship resources at their schools.

“Over the course of the program, we’ve seen Fellows have a powerful impact on student engagement and campus culture at a national scale,” Fasihuddin said. “Word of their success has attracted more than 50 institutions for this new cohort. We’re thrilled to see the impact of the new Fellows in the year ahead.”

The new Fellows gathered in Silicon Valley on February 20-22, 2015, for their annual meeting, where they took part in immersive experiences at Google and Stanford University. At the event, Fellows participated in experiential workshops and exercises focused on topics including movement building, student innovation spaces, design of learning experiences, and new models of change in higher education. They engaged with leaders in academia and industry from Google, Google for Entrepreneurs, Stanford University, and Citrix, among others. Additional information and photos from the event are available upon request.

Learn more about the University Innovation Fellows at

About Epicenter:
The National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter) is funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University and VentureWell (formerly NCIIA). Epicenter’s mission is to empower U.S. undergraduate engineering students to bring their ideas to life for the benefit of our economy and society. To do this, Epicenter helps students combine their technical skills, their ability to develop innovative technologies that solve important problems, and an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset. Epicenter’s three core initiatives are the University Innovation Fellows program for undergraduate engineering students and their peers; the Pathways to Innovation Program for institutional teams of faculty and university leaders; and a research program that informs activities and contributes to national knowledge on entrepreneurship and engineering education. Learn more and get involved at

About Stanford University:
At Stanford University, the Epicenter collaboration is managed by the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP), the entrepreneurship center in Stanford’s School of Engineering. STVP delivers courses and extracurricular programs to Stanford students, creates scholarly research on high-impact technology ventures, and produces a large and growing collection of online content and experiences for people around the world. Visit us online at

About VentureWell:
VentureWell was founded in 1995 as the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) and rebranded in 2014 to underscore its impact as an education network that cultivates revolutionary ideas and promising inventions. A not-for-profit organization reaching more than 200 universities, VentureWell is the leader in funding, training, coaching and early investment that brings student innovations to market. Inventions created by VentureWell grantees are reaching millions of people in more than 50 countries and helping to solve some of our greatest 21st century challenges. Visit to learn how we inspire students, faculty and investors to transform game-changing ideas into solutions for people and the planet.


Brechtian Estrangement and the Effect on Learning

Earlier this year, at the end of April, I found myself sitting in a grandiose room at the National Academy of Engineering in Washington, D.C. overlooking the Lincoln Memorial. I was one of a handful of University Innovation Fellows amongst a crowd of Engineering Deans representing universities from around the United States and Canada who were invited to the Grand Challenge Scholars Workshop. The goal of the workshop was to illustrate the need to improve engineering curriculum, and to identify the existing gaps present in the current generation of emerging engineers.

Cecilia Senoo and M

Cecilia Senoo (left) and Fellow Mary Wilcox.

While at the National Academy of Engineering, I heard Deans from every university in attendance lament and lambast the inability of the emerging generation of engineering students to communicate, work in teams, and to understand the interconnectedness of humanity when applying design thinking toward a challenge.

A major voice in the workshop was that of Bernard Amadei, the founder of Engineers Without Borders. Dr. Amadei delivered a speech pregnant with passion for the need to educate engineers in global cultural understanding, and the benefits that might be derived from exposing young students to the perspectives of different members of a global village.

Two short months later I find myself in a very different setting experiencing in real time the value of what Dr. Amadei was speaking about. My name is Mary Wilcox, and I am currently in Atabu, Ghana, sitting, cradled in the roots of a baobab tree.

I am working on an independent project, distinctly separate from my engineering courses, which has brought me back to Ghana and Togo for a second time in four years. For the past six weeks I have been traveling around Ghana speaking with rural school headmasters, orphanage coordinators, rural farmers, rural agrochemical salesmen, rural fishermen and aqua-culturists, rural women’s collectives, urban poor families, urban school children, the founder of one of the largest nongovernmental organizations in Ghana, and architects at a design institute in Kokrobitey. I will use my research to write an effective implementation plan for the project that will incorporate a participatory development strategy in a culturally relevant and appropriate manner. The project integrates low-tech bio-systems to turn human and animal feces and urine into food, water, soil and energy. It is designed to conserve ninety-eight percent of the water content, and produce significant amounts of high-nutrient food on a year round basis, while removing harmful contaminants from streams of human consumption. It will be income generating, and will be a vehicle that could convey other tools of empowerment such as education or health services.

Nima Accra, Open Sewer. Ghana, Africa.

Nima Accra, Open Sewer. Ghana, Africa.

This project is distinctly different from my engineering courses – most of which may be taken online – making the educational value also distinctly different.

My most valuable educational experiences have been sparked by every day occurrences in Atabu, Ghana, and Mango, Togo. There, ingenuity is not encapsulated in a computer design program, or an online module. It is experiential. It is everyday life. There, simple communication is the most difficult and mind wrenching task I have undertaken, but I learned to communicate. I learned to work with diverse teams, leading in areas I had experience with and following in areas that I needed to develop within myself. I had to. I learned from ad hoc engineering that boggled the mind, and was carried out by one or two brilliant people who never made it past a junior high school level of academic training. In estrangement to my traditional academic career I have found, undoubtedly, the most exponentially valuable educational experiences of my life. These experiences awakened a social entrepreneurial passion and a self-motivated process of growth, which I highly doubt could have ever been evoked from Stewart’s books on calculus.

When I return from Ghana, I will be meeting with the Dean of Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University to discuss the accessibility and availability of accredited engineering programs abroad. By creating opportunities for engineering students to be exposed to different ways of thinking and learning at an early point in their university program, we can produce well-rounded engineers who are culturally competent, communicative, and flexible team workers. By partnering with organizations like Engineers Without Borders, and industry partners, and local NGOs we can engage students in the most valuable learning experiences of their lives, enhance our engineering educational system, and fill the gap. We can begin to really address the Grand Challenges of humanity when we realize the value of humanity as a whole.


Mary Wilcox

Fellow Mary Wilcox from Arizona State University Tempe

Mary Wilcox graduated from Arizona State University in 2011 receiving two B.A.s in global studies and political science. Currently working towards a B.S. in mechanical engineering, Mary is focused on the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program at ASU. Through the EPICS program Mary is leading teams of engineering students to design and implement a sustainable development project which will provide inclusive access to food, water, sustainable energy, and preventative health in impoverished communities.

Find Mary’s Student Priorities for ASU Tempe here.