Design as a Response to Crises

by Sedinam Worlanyo
Originally posted on Medium

Fight or flight. This theory first described by Walter Bradford Cannon sheds light on a physiological reaction that occurs “in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.” Your body chooses to flee in a crisis or to stay and fight. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, our team chose a fight response.

Our University Innovation Fellows team chose to respond by immediately bringing together and leveraging the power of people to help shape and tackle issues related to the coronavirus threat. We launched a virtual accelerator program dubbed UIF vs Corona that took place between April 6 and April 18.

I interviewed participants in the weeks that followed to better understand their experiences, find out what they learned, and get an update on their projects. Below are the results of that research. We hope that this demonstrates the power and potential of virtual gatherings to work on big challenges.

A global kick-off event

This accelerator convened 200 University Innovation Fellows, Faculty Champions, and guests (we gave Fellows the chance to bring along a +1, a trusted collaborator). People came from several countries across the globe to brainstorm ideas and formed teams to explore 20 challenges, under four themes: “Fighting the Disease,” “Reactivating the Economy,” “Protecting the most vulnerable” and “Reimagining Education.”

Participants were driven by various motivations to be a part of UIF vs Corona. E, a prospective Fellow from University of Nebraska at Omaha described her motivation as, “I really kind of felt lost. And so what this offered me was a chance to give back to others and make a solution for others that weren’t and aren’t as lucky as I am in this situation and so I think it really just sparked something to kind of feel a sense of purpose during these weird times.”

This sense of purpose was felt by our team who kicked off the accelerator with a “Community Roulette” where people got to learn more about one another. In the 24 hours following the kickoff, about 150 participants signed up to continue working on the challenges, and 29 teams were formed.

Screenshots from one of the Spotlight Experts, Dr. Frederik G. Pferdt, Chief Innovation Evangelist, Google

Exploring the challenges

During the week of April 6–10, participants explored their respective problem spaces deeply through question storming, reframing and remote needfinding. Teams had the support of dedicated coaches and on-demand advisors — for process/design thinking, team dynamics, storytelling, and technologies for collaboration.

There were also spotlight presentations and workshops that ranged from topics of innovation to business models; as well as first-hand accounts from emergency room doctors and business owners. These spotlights were live and recorded for asynchronous access throughout the two weeks and beyond.

Idea Brainstorming Board from UIF vs Corona

Final projects

The accelerator ended with a Community Share Out on Saturday April 18, where teams got feedback from peers and collaborators. Teams presented solutions that ranged from reactivating the economy for small business enterprises to helping teachers transition online to identifying asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19. Some of these teams are still working on their solutions today.

All in all, the virtual accelerator was not only a catalyst for change but also provided a ripple effect in the impact it created beyond the accelerator. This was evident from Joe Samosky, a mentor for one of the teams and Professor of Bioengineering at University of Pittsburgh.

“The idea that, you know, the is going to say, yeah, we have this worldwide UIF program and in our very first session, we’re going to have like 170 people on and we’re going to do breakout rooms. I mean, if it works, it’s great. If it fails, you know, we’ll figure out a way. I definitely took inspiration from that.”

Through UIF vs Corona, seeds of changemaking were planted, cross-cultural connections emerged, and we were reminded about the power of teams united by a common purpose. Like Ryan Middleton, an advisor and instructor at the Blue Horizons, Air University, who said that he believes that UIF vs Corona was “worth the risk” of trying something new in unsettling times.

“What you saw was someone who said, I’m going to take action. And I don’t know how it’s going to turn out but it’s the right thing to do and it’s who we are as an organization. And look at how many people showed up.”

It doesn’t need to be said that crises such as the pandemic provide significant challenges to all aspects of our lives. But as educators, they also force us to engage with our students in new ways that may be beneficial to higher education in the long term. Learning experiences such as our virtual accelerator help give community members a chance to apply their skills to real-world problem solving.

Note: If you’re considering hosting your own virtual accelerator or conference, here are some resources (linked in the titles) we created that might be helpful.

UIF vs Corona: What You Need to Know Guide
This document was shared with all participants as an early primer as well as a resource throughout the event. It was kept up to date with new content and links to resources as they became available.

Video playlist of team projects
We asked participant teams to make short videos detailing their projects. In the process of figuring out how to tell their story, this exercise helps teams to clarify any existing issues or questions with their project.

Together We Can Make a Movement

By Titus Venverloo, Fellow, University of Twente

From August 11 to 20, 2019, the University of Twente Innovation Fellows hosted their regional meetup in the Netherlands. With 31 students from over 15 countries joining the program, the stage was set for an amazing nine days full of design thinking, leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as some truly EPIC team dynamics. The program involved many guest speakers, from researchers to mayors to entrepreneurial students to CEOs, all surrounding the theme of how to Science2Design4Society.

The central spot of the meetup was the DesignLab, the futuristic student-driven makerspace of the University of Twente. During the 9 days, the group worked on multiple cases provided by local and international stakeholders related to the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. They went through the 6 phases of the DesignLab’s Design Thinking methodology to find solutions to global challenges: Explore, Ideate, Conceptualize, Prototype, Reflect and Reframe. Besides going through the Design Thinking cycle, the group elevator pitched in an elevator, talked to CEOs and mayors over dinner, casually rappelled off buildings, played volleyball, enjoyed late nights, and, above all, had some festival style vibes!

Marthe, the project lead of this meetup, summarizes the experience as: “If you are able to inspire others they will also inspire you. And that is exactly how we can describe this meetup.” One of the participants reflected: “After these nine days, I’m another person than the one that arrived on the first day.” 

Developing leadership skills and an entrepreneurial mindset cannot be done overnight, but apparently, with the right circumstances, nine days might be enough! Next to the program for the students, several faculty champions joined the first-ever Champions Meetup, which was hosted at the same time as the meetup. They talked about “what it means to be a UIF faculty champion,” and they provided workshops, talks and engaged with the participants. Having these international speakers at the meetup was of great value to the program and the UIF network in Europe!

An inspiring quote that reflects the meetup: “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.” – Colin Powell

Inside Joke: Intercultural Communication is a thing!

Impactful thought: Alone we can make change, together we can make a movement!

View more event photos here.

You Don’t Need to Wait to Make a Difference 

University Innovation Fellows organized LOOP, the first-ever Latin American Innovation Week and the UIF Latin American Meetup in 2018.

by Leticia Britos Cavagnaro

There is learning about the world, and then there is immersing yourself in the world, and learning as you figure out how you can make an impact.

Often times we think that students need to wait to graduate before they attempt to go out in the real world, yet more and more universities are realizing this does not have to be the case. When University Innovation Fellows from three Uruguayan universities collaborated in organizing LOOP, the first-ever Latin American Innovation Week and UIF Latin American Meetup, tackling real issues facing the country was a key ingredient.

The 4-day event, which took place in Montevideo (Uruguay’s capital) from August 2 to 5, 2018, convened Fellows and students from Chile, Colombia, Perú, and Puerto Rico, as well as local participants who were students, faculty and professionals across fields. The teams organized around themes of interest taking a cue from the UNESCO Developmental Goals. They partnered with local non-profits to connect with people living in precarious conditions in shanty towns, teachers struggling to impact kids in public schools, and women putting their skills to work and creating small businesses. The teams went out on the field to understand these stakeholders and their needs and, after an intense day of work, invited them to the event venue to test some of the solutions they had come up with.

Learnings were plentiful – for the teams, for the partners, and for the stakeholders. When the teams presented their ideas and business models to a panel of university and government leaders, it was evident that applying design skills and mindsets opens up possibilities. None of these complex problems – poverty, access to quality education, and economic development for underserved populations – will be solved in 2 days. They have multiple intertwined root causes compounded by inadequate policies and pervasive societal inequalities. But what it’s clear is that we will never solve them if we don’t look for new ways to understand and chip away at them and, very importantly, if we don’t equip our youth with the confidence and the tools to lead the way.

The Social Innovation Challenge was only one of the many highlights of LOOP. Fellows formed friendships across borders as they kicked off their time together cooking “alfajores” – a traditional Uruguayan treat, and sharing snacks they brought from their home countries.

The fact that the Fellows who organized the event came from Universidad de Montevideo, Universidad Católica and Universidad CLAEH was in itself a testament to the power of student change agents to galvanize collaborations among institutions. This collaborative spirit didn’t go unnoticed by the university and government authorities who attended. Also part of the organizing team were other students. While a few of them learned during the event that they had been accepted as UIF candidates, many were just as excited to work hard bring to life the event, embodying the inclusive ethos of UIF, in which Fellows are not an elite, but simply the sparks and catalysts of a bigger movement.

In the same vein, LOOP also featured Design Thinking and Life Design workshops, as well as talks by engaging speakers. These were open to the public and attended by professionals  and faculty interested in innovation, entrepreneurship, and experiential learning. Participants were also exposed to the inspiring stories of Fellows themselves, told in short format for maximum impact.

Last but not least, LOOP organizers did not forget about a very important dimension that, now more than ever, needs to be in all of our minds when we organize events or simply go about our lives: the environment. While a culture of recycling may already exist in the United States and other countries (with various degrees of implementation success) Uruguay has relatively recently begun to deploy mechanisms at scale to encourage citizens to rethink their waste generation and to adopt recycling practices. Throughout the event, Fellows brought attention to resources they put in place, prototyped strategies to make LOOP a sustainable event and fostered discussions on the topic among participants.

My home country of Uruguay is small – half the size of California and with a population of only 3 and a half million. When we started the UIF program in 2012, I could have never imagined that 6 years later there would be University Innovation Fellows in four of the five universities in the country. They are leading the way in collaborating with faculty and administrators at their schools, across institutions, and with the government and the private and social sectors. Attending this Meetup filled me with pride and makes me hopeful for the evolution of higher education in my country, and beyond. Kudos to them!

Want to experience LOOP this summer? Fellows are holding this event again in 2019. Visit to learn more!

Fellows Take on SXSW 2019

15 Fellows joined UIF co-directors Humera Fasihuddin and Leticia Britos Cavagnaro for SXSW in Austin, TX, in March 2019. They spent several days together learning from speakers, engaging participants, and connecting with one another.

Below are a few of their reflections on the experience.

A Scoot Through SXSW

By Jessica Aldrich, Wichita State University

After sitting in Austin traffic for what felt like hours, I was anxious to get to our house to see all of the other Fellows we would be staying with. As soon as I saw an electric scooter, I knew I found my way out of the car and to the house faster. I hopped out while we were at a stoplight and began racing my team there, hoping to beat them by a few minutes.

From that beginning action, the week didn’t slow down. I had an incredible experience exploring the city and creating deeper relationships with Fellows from across the world. I listened to talks by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Priscilla Chan and gained key insights about diversity, the future of healthcare, and experienced mindfulness in new ways. Many of my favorite moments were spent scooting around a new place with new friends, learning about their experiences and perspectives.

My four key takeaways from this experience were:

  1. Don’t be afraid to attend sessions outside of your comfort zone. I took the chance to attend a mentoring session with Mona Al-Mukhaizeem, a VC from Kuwait who began her career as an engineer before turning to investments.
  2. During a session titled “The US is Racist AF” I gained insights connecting pop culture to current events, learning that when a movement begins to get strong, the music does also.
  3. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez empowered young women, especially those from diverse backgrounds to stop trying to navigate systems of power, and instead start building our own.
  4. You can scoot anywhere if you’re brave enough, and can find one that’s charged.

I am missing the friends and community that I built during that week dearly, but I could not be more thankful for the experiences and all that I learned during that time!

The People Behind the Talks

By Spencer Lueckenotto, Wichita State University

You never know who you might meet at a conference like SXSW. Just walking on the sidewalks alone, I was introduced to successful entrepreneurs who wanted to extend their networks, as well as independent filmmakers hoping to gain a following from the masses. Around every corner, there were people willing to mingle and hear your story just as you would listen to theirs. However, the passersby were just the beginning.

Just this past semester, my roommate (who is also part of the UIFam) and I started a new student organization on our campus. We named it the Shocker Quad Club; Shocker for our campus mascot, and Quad for quadcopter (more commonly known as a drone). Our goal for this was to bring in interested students to a friendly environment where they could share their knowledge with others and gain more information from others about the evolving world of drone racing.

After hearing of a scheduled SXSW talk about the emergence of drone racing in entertainment, I instantly chose to attend. The speakers were professionals from the drone entertainment industry who have worked on aerial coverage of the most recent Super Bowl, setting up publicity events for drone racing, and creating the parts themselves that makeup drones.

The talk was very interesting, but the real value came after the scheduled program. I approached the stage after hearing what they had to share and was surprisingly greeted with a very interactive conversation. I eventually brought up our recently formed student organization and they immediately took an interest to it. Explaining a bit more about it, I was able to persuade the speakers that we are very engaged and committed to drone racing, and they ended up asking me if they could sponsor our club!

Especially at a conference of this magnitude, it can be easy to sit back and disengage from the talks that you are listening to. For me, it was the moment I walked up to that stage that made me realize that even the people up on the stage are just that: people. They have their own stories as well as us, and most of the time they are looking for someone to interact with personally after their event. I saw an immediate impact after talking with just one of the panels, and I can only imagine what other conversations would have looked like if I had just engaged with speakers at an earlier time in my life. So, all in all, don’t forget that we are all people and that conversations are not something to be afraid of, but are to be sought after and embraced.

Be Fearless

By Lucía Rodríguez Marichal, Universidad de Montevideo

Attending SXSW with a crew of Fellows was an amazing experience for many reasons. To begin with, we got to know each other better and strengthen our boundaries as a family, as we cohabitated at a home for several days. Furthermore, I felt empowered by many Fellows who were always trying to do epic sh*t by proposing stokes to the audience of SXSW before a session started.

Finally, regarding the content of the event on itself, I considered it was really inspiring. I was moved by a talk which was called “Be Fearless.” Although we all have our fears and it is fine to do so, this talk was about recognizing it and having tools to deal with them. We have our fears regarding the challenges we face at our campuses, but by no means this would stop us from working towards our goals. I would like to cite what another speaker said: “ when you focus on your enemies, you are ignoring your allies.” Although we don’t have literal enemies, we might face many rejections from members of our communities. However, as long as we keep connected with the people who are on our side, we will go towards the goal.  

Community and Leadership

By Sabrina Stangler, Milwaukee School of Engineering

SXSW was an incredible opportunity to learn! My favorite session was one that explained leadership through the lens of “Extreme Ownership,” a concept with which I was not familiar until I realized that this was the type of leadership I was employing already.

Other parts of the trip I enjoyed involved being around a dozen other incredible Fellows with many experiences and words of advice. I loved talking with Fellows about struggles I was experiencing personally or that we were working through with our cohort at MSOE – everyone had so much knowledge to share! I also enjoyed listening to stories and experiences of Fellows living in places very different than Milwaukee, WI, most notably the Fellows from Peru and Uruguay. In addition to learning lots of amazing new things at the sessions, I was able to digest the experiences with a group of incredible and diverse students. I couldn’t be more thankful!


By Jeffrey Stransky, Rowan University

I attended a talk on ethical data applications through volunteerism. Jake Porway from DataKind introduced the idea of connecting volunteer data scientists with technical problems and inefficiencies. Examples of DataKind at work include using drones to highlight potential flood hotspots to evacuate villages and developing planning algorithms to reduce burnout among foster care caseworkers. This came as a refresher to my UIF training where the technical skills that I accumulate can be applied to make a granular impact on someone’s life. #Data4Good

Embrace Radical Grace

By Sarandeep Kaur, Rowan University

In the notorious ballroom D, Alexis Jones wowed the crowd on how to make space for righteous anger, freeing ourselves from stereotypes, and getting real close to ourselves in this broken society. From taking notes to soaking everything in, Alexis and Kelly Krause (moderator) provided a refreshing take on how to channel your authentic voice through radical grace. “Our insecurities are the glue to connect us all together.” As a UIFellow, I find it crucial to create a safe space where everyone’s idea can be heard and learned from. We all have different lived experiences, from that provides us a unique opportunity to unpack our own unconscious bias and create change.

Stoked for Stokes

By Tara Rahmani, Milwaukee School of Engineering

Being in Austin for a week in a giant AirBnb with 16 Fellows plus Humera and Leticia was probably the best week of my life. Being a first-gen, I don’t have a lot of family here, and I refer to UIF as my UIFamily. So, SXSW was heckin’ amazing. One of my favorite takeaways was from the mindfulness session – which is also where we also did our first stoke! The presenter gave the advice of only staying mad at something for 15 seconds, and then after that, don’t let it consume you or any more of your time.

Another takeaway was just how diverse and inclusive and willing to get hype everyone was. It was amazing doing so many stokes with different crowds. A couple presenters gave us a “no” but most said “sure, why not?!” and when they saw how the crowd reacted – everyone was so happy and pumped. The presenter was also more pumped before their session! The ability to network with Fellows from all different places, so many people at SXSW, and Humera and Leticia for a week was so worth missing a week of school. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


By Carolina Vassallucci, Universidad de Montevideo

I would describe this experience as heart and eye opening. This was because of two reasons. First, the conferences at SXSW were really good, because I learned valuable concepts from almost all the talks I went. Secondly, having the possibility to live with the rest of the Fellows at the same house for one week made the trip even more enriching.

Synergy is also an important word that can be used to explain how we all managed to get to know each other more and build bonds that were positive for our whole experience. Therefore, we could all manage to learn from what the rest of the group learned, regarding the conferences, but also the experiences at our universities and as change makers in general, because this is what unites us all and always will.

Igniting Changemakers at Ashoka U Exchange 2019

Transforming higher education into a tool for social innovation was the theme of the Ashoka U Exchange conference. Five Fellows and UIF program co-directors Leticia Britos Cavagnaro and Humera Fasihuddin, held activities and attended sessions at the February 2019 event in San Diego, CA.

Below are the Fellows’ reflections on the experience:

All of us are designers

By Omri Gal, Swarthmore College

“All of us are designers” – Antoinette D. Carrol, Creative Reaction Lab

For many people, design is understood as a skill utilized within the fields of art, fashion, and architecture, and is rarely perceived as a tool for social innovation/change. However, at the Ashoka U Exchange, we were able to interact with and learn from hundreds of “change makers” using design to create social change in their respective fields.

As Antoinette D. Carrol, founder of Creative Reaction Lab, eloquently described during her opening panel remarks, “All of us are designers.” Creative Reaction Lab, which was founded in response to the unrest in Ferguson, aims to encourage youth, educators, and communities to use equity-centered design to become changemakers. This approach, which builds upon the tenants of design-thinking, focuses on “dismantling systemic oppression” by “incorporating history and healing, where history is unpacked to unveil power structures and open a space for relearning” (Creative Reaction Lab, 2019). Additionally, Antoinette astutely points to how “systems of oppression, inequalities are by design,” and as such can be dismantled through design.

In October 2018, I launched Design FC, an after school program in Chester (PA) teaching 5th/6th graders creative thinking through a soccer jersey/apparel design project. Following a successful first semester of programming, I am now working with students to plan the launch of Design FC’s online marketplace, and a final event to showcase the work we have done. Central to these projects, is amplifying the voices of my students, a concept which Antoinette discussed extensively in her panel. The words of Antoinette, and more broadly my experience at the Ashoka Exchange, have pushed me think of ways to develop Design FC so that students are completely in the spotlight and feel a sense of ownership over the program. Further, the Ashoka Exchange has reinforced my understanding of design as a multi-disciplinary tool that is relevant to almost every aspect of our lives. The immense power of design, which was evident throughout the Ashoka, has made me both reevaluate my current work, and future aspirations.

I am a Changemaker

By Winter Wilson, Ohio University

Student. Journalist. Environmentalist. Musician. Creative. Innovator. Etc, etc. These were all ways in which I defined myself, but the Ashoka U Exchange exposed me to an entirely new identity: changemaker. In a world that seems to experience a steady decline of compassion and popular desire to effect positive change, having a bit of “change the world” in us as Fellows might just be our superpower.

During the Ashoka exchange, I had the opportunity to engage with people from across educational sectors about the need for social innovation and entrepreneurship principles in higher education. My biggest takeaway is that we must use education as a tool to encourage students to assess how the things they create or do will change the world or make a difference. Whether you’re an engineer, a musician, an environmentalist or a journalist. As a result of the exchange, I have been thinking critically about the ways in which my university fosters this type of growth, and how I can utilize our new collaboration space to implement many of these ideas.

So I ask you, Fellows, to consider a few questions as I am: how might we measure success by changemaking? How might we harness our changemaker identities for the betterment of the people, communities and world around us? How might we commit to a new level of impact? And how might we encourage others to do the same?

Visibility and Social Enterprise

By Amita Shukla, Columbia University

Columbia prides itself on being the most activist school in the Ivy League, and indeed one of the most activist and aware schools in the country. This is part of the reason I chose Columbia, and I’ve found it to be true in the two and a half years I’ve been here so far. But I’ve also found that many Columbia students have trouble channeling that enthusiasm into a longer-term vision beyond their four years here, having only a vague and often dismal sense of what non-profit or social enterprise options might look like, combined with a hyper-awareness of what paths in finance and consulting look like.

Through my time with the University Innovation Fellows program, I’ve been working on creating more visibility around those socially aware post-grad career choices available to students. Even as someone actively seeking those voices and those spaces, however, I found myself struggling to find good examples of the kinds of social enterprises I was trying to describe and knew existed. The Ashoka U conference was an amazing opportunity for exposure to exactly those people and ideas. After attending Ashoka U, I left with both contacts and venues by which myself and other Columbia students can further explore these paths. To help with Columbia’s University Innovation Fellows project, I was also able to get many other schools’ social innovation syllabi.

And through Ashoka U’s inaugural Tech and Changemaking track that the University Innovation Fellows participated in, I also gained many new perspectives about how technical leaders in particular approach social enterprise. All too often the “build-an-app” mindset dominates at such discussions, but Ashoka U Tech and Changemaking attendees had a refreshingly broad set of approaches to using tech. In particular, I was impressed by the Social Impact Media Awards’ immersive VR refugee camp videos and the Solutions U journalism database, which I am excited to share with my Columbia peers as effective non-app, tech-based changemaking strategies. And my attendance at the track felt truly participatory: I came away with a new opportunity to apply my data skills in partnership with one of the Ashoka Fellows, in tracking the paths stolen guns, and also am exploring a partnership with her to use those datasets in a class I’m a TA for, further bringing back my experience to Columbia. I left with the sobering but also exciting realization that many others even at the forefront of the field are still trying to define what their relationship to data should be, and that this shaping is something that I get to be part of throughout my career.

Overall, attending the Ashoka U conference with the University Innovation Fellows was an invaluable learning experience. The other University Innovation Fellows I met through the conference will continue to be friends, inspiration, and a support network as we all continue to apply everything we learned. After attending Ashoka U, I resolve to help spread my newfound awareness of different paths in social enterprise to the Columbia community.

Finding Hope

By Mahmoud Khedr, City College of New York

Being at Ashoka U was an amazing opportunity that I’m so grateful to have been able to be part of. It provided me with so many insights into what’s happening in other campuses across the world in regards to social movements, entrepreneurship, and innovation. More simply put, it convened the amazing community of changemakers across the globe who shared their best practices, key learnings, models that work, and went above and beyond to ensure inclusivity. I felt it in different moments — in the opening speech given by Mentor Dida, where he recalls his childhood as a refugee and how that impacted all of his work today, and in one-on-one conversations with Presidents, Directors of Innovation Centers, philanthropists, administrators, and students.

I came to Ashoka to learn about how to enhance and continue building a changemaking revolution on campus. I got that, but also left with something that I feel is more important; hope. Hope that the work that is being done does not going unnoticed, that although things may get dark, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Hope that it’s not about me, or my college, City College of New York, but it’s about the collective action that we’re taking together to make this world a better place. Thank you to the University Innovation Fellows program and team (Humera, Leticia) for making this happen. I look forward to next year’s convening!

Including Everyone

By Gabriela Gonjon, City College of New York

The Ashoka U Exchange showcased a small world where students, faculty, administrators, and organizations around higher education worked together to flexibly create social change through their spheres of influence. I knew from the Ashoka U website that this conference would have been amazing. They hosted interactive workshops and panels about interesting talks. I crammed extra work hours during my winter break to make just enough money for my plane ticket and didn’t regret a penny.

The overall attitude of the people at the convention was incredibly warm and inviting. It was great to hear people from diverse aspects of education. Ashoka U focused on how inclusivity with diverse perspectives is essential for any mission. An important insight was how working with people from specific perspectives on a situation are necessary for social change. If I want to solve a problem for a disadvantaged group of people, I need more than interviews and research on them. I need their perspectives at the table of making decisions.

I met a woman named Sonia Galiber at on the night before the convention for the Dinner of Solidarity for people of color. She organized this dinner and other events at the convention with her partner. She and her partner noticed in the previous conference had a lack of diversity in all aspects such as the number of students and community organizers compare to the number of people who are administrators in academia. She brought this up to Ashoka U and they later created a board with her. This board now overlooks how diversity is included in the conference. The impact she had from voicing her perspective was tremendous.  

My experience at the conference would have been completely different if diversity and inclusion was not a major focus. It was very well conveyed throughout the conference. After hearing from panelist and attendees on many perspectives it showed how important it is to include all types of people in a situation as well as my own voice. Now I understand that thoroughly interviewing the people I want to impact is important, but collaborating and ideating alongside the people within a situation is powerful for creating well-rounded solutions. It is important to take time and establish what types of people are impacted and where are they being representing in the project. From now and on my first question when I sit down at a table for decision making is “What perspectives aren’t included in this conversation?”

Forging Connections Across Cultures

75 members of the UIF community + an expanding innovation destination + beautiful sand and sun for miles = Eastern Hemisphere Meetup in the United Arab Emirates. Check out the materials and other resources from the event.

Picture it: a place where you can go sand dune surfing, design a new innovation strategy for your school, learn to dance bachata, meet people from all around the world, and visit a tech giant. We did all of this and more during our visit to the United Arab Emirates for the Eastern Hemisphere Meetup.

Seventy-five Fellows and faculty joined the UIF team for the Meetup, which took place April 25-28, 2019, in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This Meetup is one of two options that Fellows could select from this year to expand on their training as change agents in higher education; the other, the Silicon Valley Meetup, took place in March.

The UIF team created the Eastern Hemisphere Meetup to allow participants in that region of the world to more easily access a UIF event, and to provide an exciting destination and culture for our Fellows to experience. An important benefit of holding a Meetup in the UAE was that Fellows were able to experience an innovation culture outside of Silicon Valley. We mixed learning experiences together with opportunities to experience this culture, taking the Fellows to many different locations for sessions as well as unique UAE destinations like the Dubai Mall and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

“This experience allowed me to reframe my perspective and experience entrepreneurial ecosystems through a global lens,” said Zahrah Abdulrauf from University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It helped me envision the way that the human-centered design toolkit I gained through UIF could help me to fit into this picture on a broader, global scale.”

We kicked off four days of learning with a desert adventure in Dubai that had us all whooping and screaming (in a fun way, mostly!). We were driven out to the desert and piled in SUVs that whipped around and sand-surfed their way over and down impossibly steep dunes. At the end of the twisty road was an oasis where we had dinner, took photos on the dunes, met some friendly camels and falcons, and got to know one another better.

In our group, we had people from the United States, India, the United Arab Emirates and Bulgaria. For many participants, this was their first trip outside their home countries. Some students came a long way to make new friends from nearby schools (several Fellows attend schools in New York) while others made fast friends with people who had very different backgrounds from their own. This desert bonding experience helped us forge connections that lasted throughout the Meetup (and beyond).

“From the first day, I felt like I belonged here, as we weren’t strangers surrounding each other but close friends who hadn’t met yet,” said Reem Sobeih from Ajman University.

Throughout the event, another way that participants made new connections was through the Fabs (the name is short for “Fabulous”). These eight experienced Fellows served as mentors, speakers, event organizers and leaders of participant groups as we moved from place to place over the course of the weekend. They also gave short ignite presentations on their work as Fellows, and shared their personal struggles and successes.

Day two of the Meetup took us to Youth Hub in Dubai, a collaboration space for young media professionals, entrepreneurs, researchers and programmers. There, participants learned how to create a culture of innovation within teams and organizations. They applied brainstorming and prototyping techniques to the projects that they identified during their UIF training.

Two visiting speakers came to share their stories with the Fellows. Muhammed Mekki, founding partner at coworking space and tech academy AstroLabs, discussed entrepreneurship culture and e-commerce potential in the Middle East. Hiba Balfaqih, founder of The Startup Factory and The Smash Room, inspired the group with her story of grit and personal motivation.

Meetups are not traditional conferences; we lead Fellows through hands-on activities that get them up from their chairs and interacting with one another. One such session from day two was the inspiration walk, an audio experience that helps people see things from a different perspective. Fellows grabbed their devices and headphones, and walked outside the building to find inspiration in nature that they could bring into how they approach problems in their lives, guided by the audio.

“After the inspiration walk and ⁨[Fab] Emma May⁩’s talk, I embraced my flaws,” said Nikhita Guduru of VR Siddhartha Engineering College. “There is nothing in the universe, not even nature, which is perfect. What matters is the drive to push, change and inspire!”

“The event showed me that everyone at every age has a point of view that matters, and that allowing myself to be silly and open hearted with the content was the best way to learn and grow,” said Lisa Dinh from Columbia University. “This rippled into more empathy for the cohort I am focusing on with my project: students in college with disabilities.”

On the third day, our group was hosted by our colleagues and Fellows at Abu Dhabi University’s Innovation Space. There, the theme of the day was “reimagining learning.” Sessions explored de Bono’s 6 thinking hats, the role of space in creating learning experiences, and how stokes (short interactive activities) can be used to create the right mindsets for learning. Participants learned about leadership (and followership) through movement when the whole group learned bachata, a dance from the Dominican Republic. They also took part in an unconference to explore topics of interest that they proposed.

“I realized through the activities that a leader is also a follower at the same time,” said Haleema Mulla Bakhsh of Abu Dhabi University. “It’s a matter of equal contribution by every member of team.”

For the final day of the event, we traveled back to Dubai, where we spent the morning at Microsoft learning about innovation culture, artificial intelligence and the future of work. We heard from Ihab Foudeh, General Manager Public Sector of Microsoft Middle East & Africa; Mourad Touzani, AI Consultant; and Yves Khalil, Senior Education Programs Director.

We closed the event at the Dubai campus of Abu Dhabi University, where Fellows and faculty worked with their school groups to weave various concepts they’d learned during the Meetup into their campus projects.

As a send-off, we ended with our traditional paper airplanes activity, where participants write an insight on colorful paper, fold it, and send their thoughts into the air.

“As a very shy person who doesn’t approach people a lot, I was able to break through and interact with many new people,” said Joe Khattar from Ajman University. “One of the best [paper airplane] quotes I read was simply ‘UIF is family,’ and this is very true. In the last day of the event, we were talking to each other as if we knew each other for years and years.”

We all left the room with new friends, new ideas, a renewed passion for changing higher education, and just a little bit of sand in our shoes.

Indian Fellows in the Global Spotlight

Fellows from India have conducted design thinking workshops at several large global conferences. JSSATE Fellow Shivanika Shah shares reflections from several of those events.

By Shivanika Shah, Fellow, JSS Academy of Technical Education, Noida

The UIF program welcomed its first Fellows from India in Fall 2016, thanks to an international initiative supported by Google. Since that time, more than 300 Fellows from 40 institutions in India have joined the program. 

Fellows have been very active at their universities, holding workshops, creating organizations, and honing their facilitation skills. In 2017 and 2018, the UIF program team invited several groups of Fellows to help conduct design thinking workshops at large global conferences. Below are reflections on just a few of these events.

Google Developer Days, Bangalore

Google Developer Day events are web developer-focused gatherings around the world held annually by Google. They include seminars and codelabs focused on building of web, mobile, and enterprise applications with Google and open web technologies such as Android, HTML5, Chrome, App Engine, Google Web Toolkit. These events give participants an excellent chance to learn about Google developer products as well as meet the engineers who work on them. 

“This was the largest conference I’ve been to and it certainly didn’t disappoint!” said Fellow Asher John Sathya at CMR Institute of Technology.

Google conducted the GDD event on 1-2 December, 2017, in Bangalore, India. At the event, 16 Fellows conducted a design thinking workshop with the UIF Team. In order to take part in this opportunity, Fellows completed a challenge set by the UIF program to conduct a series of design thinking workshops at their own schools.

Attendees showed an amazing level of excitement and interest for the event. “I still remember that the seating capacity in the hall was for 120 and we had the longest queue of about 400 candidates waiting in advance to attend our workshop,” said Priyanka Srivastava, a Fellow at CMR Institute of Technology.

In addition to students, many tech enthusiasts and professionals were part of the 3-hour-long workshop.

At the end of the day, Fellows learned, networked and collaborated with tech professionals of various different companies and domains. 

“We acted as knowledge transfers to the working professionals.” said Fellow Siddhartha Mondreti of Godavari Institute of Engineering and Technology. “The most exciting part was that we learned tech opportunities from them and we gave them design thinking skills.”

The Fellows made the best use of this opportunity to create an impact.

“There are many people who are using design thinking as a part of their daily lives in different ways,” said Suchitra Nidiginti, a Fellow at Madanapalle Institute of Technology and Science. “After the workshop when all the participants in my team came and shared that his workshop had taught them different ways to implement design thinking, I felt happy.”

“Conducting a workshop for the experienced attendees was the hardest part,” said Fellow Sameer Ahmed M N of Madanapalle Institute of Technology and Science. “But after conducting the workshop, I learned that it’s not about age. Everything depends upon the worth of knowledge that you are sharing and the energy of positivity that you are passing on with confidence. Then everyone will be ready to accept what you are sharing with keen observation.”

“I feel that design thinking will surely help them in their fields, because in programming it’s 90% design and 10% coding,” said Fellow Sai Kiran of Madanapalle Institute of Technology and Science.

Developer Students Club Summit, Goa

Google India conducted the Developer Students Club summit for the first time February 23-25, 2018, in Goa. The goals of the event were to broaden access to world-class technology curricula for students and to make it easy for students and developers to gain the skills they need to be successful in the changing technology landscape.  

The attendees learned about various emerging technologies through a series of engaging sessions from experts from Google and industry as well as through one-to-one mentoring activities.

11 Indian Fellows had the opportunity to conduct a 4-hour design thinking workshop with UIF team member Ghanashyam S in Goa as part of the event. The workshop participants were 200 students from 98 cities across 170 colleges in India. 

During the workshop, attendees collaborated with a wide range of professionals from industries such as retail, travel, fitness, music, body art, and shipbuilding. The participants used design thinking on real life problems and designed multiple, scalable and reliable solutions for the professionals. 

“In my team, they were trying to solve the problem of a musician who’s passionate about passing on his knowledge in music to others,” said Sai Kiran, a Fellow at Madanapalle Institute of Technology and Science (MITS). “He was not able to find ways of doing so. He said that teaching music to others is what makes him happy.”

“My team interacted with a gym instructor whose major problem is advertising,” said MITS Fellow Suchitra Nidiginti. “The solutions for the same ranged from giving free gifts to customers developing an app for the gym. Students felt very happy when they figured out solutions to a problem.”

In general, the Fellows had a great experience conducting the design thinking workshop. It was a unique opportunity for the Fellows to learn, collaborate and create impact.

“As we are dealing with the actual problem solvers, the thing we have to do is to show them the path to find the best possible solution. From that point, the ball will be in their court, said Fellow Sameer Ahmed M N of MITS. “Teaching that proper and effective connection to bridge the gap taught me how to understand the recipients’ requirements and to model the teaching methodology.”

“I was thrilled and super excited by the idea that people use coding to make a difference in the lives of others,” said Sai Kiran.

Fellow Priyanka Srivastava was impressed with participants’ desire to tackle and solve real world problems. “The feedback I got from the attendees at the end of the workshop was that his is an  innovative approach, and an interesting and interactive way of prototyping for real world problems.”

Deshpande Foundation, Hubballi

Indian University Innovation Fellows had a chance to facilitate a design thinking workshop in the prestigious Deshpande Foundation’s Development Dialogue on the 3rd and 4th February, 2018 at Hubballi, Karnataka.

Development Dialogue is an international social entrepreneurship ecosystem conference that brings together numerous social entrepreneurs as well as those who believe in and are involved in creating ecosystems to nurture innovation and entrepreneurship. The conference is attended by participants from for-profits, global visionaries, impact investors as well as local communities to share proven models, innovations, and transforming perspectives.

The Fellows held 5 sessions, each 2 hours long, for diverse groups of people like leaders of the Deshpande Foundation, participants of conference and students from various organizations.

“I facilitated for groups of 6 to 22 students!” said Fellow Asher John Sathya. “Each group was unique. There were groups of college students, high school students and other groups had members from the various programs run by the foundation.” 

The Fellows familiarized attendees with the design thinking and then asked them to apply the methodology to the various problems they face in their daily lives.

“Students came up with different problems like communication, stage fear, pollution, lacking practical knowledge, smart village, etc. They came up with crazy solutions to the problems they defined,” said Fellow Sindhu Bhonsley. 

The Fellows faced the challenge of communication as a barrier while interacting with the attendees, as some of them spoke local languages which Fellows weren’t fluent in. But being the true Fellows, they didn’t stop; they adjusted and collaborated with the attendees and made the event a success.

“I was able to explain to them in Telugu and Hindi very well, but my Kannada was not that fluent. Somehow I managed to explain them in Kannada and they helped me to explain to them in their language.” said Sindhu Bhonsley.

At the end, the event was a success and Fellows experienced both a challenging and life changing event.

“This event is one that has totally changed the way that I look at people and the way I think,” said Kollu Nishkala. “This is a place where I met students from different educational backgrounds. There were some students among them who can not even understand what others speak due to lack of basic communication skills and lack of basic knowledge on things. After this event, I have started going to some government schools in my locality and started interacting with students and teaching some spoken English and technical classes.”

“Though it was a bit difficult to conduct workshop for almost 80 students for each session, I got inspired by their energy levels. They were very happy about the workshop and most of them said that they have come out with great insights and learnings related to leadership. Overall it helped me connect with the people’s problems and get to know more about the issues they are facing in their lives,” said Anitha Narnavaram.

“Facilitating design thinking is always a fun learning for both the facilitators and also for the participants because it always makes us to learn how to deal with many different types of people. We received a good feedback from the attendees who participated in the workshop we could also see the zeal in them to learn more about design thinking,” said Sindhu Bhonsley.

Design Constraint Yields New Global Event

By Katie Dzugan

When we hold the Silicon Valley Meetup in California every year, we invite a huge number of people: 250+ Fellows, 24 FABs (UIF leaders/support), 20-30 faculty champions, speakers, special guests and more. Due to space constraints at the and at Google, we’re limited to 300 people. Fitting all of these people in one building for an event has been one of our biggest design constraints in the program.

Then, in the last year and a half, we began to have a surge of interest in the program from schools in India. Thanks to funding from Google, since Fall 2016, we’ve welcomed 226 students from 40 institutions in India. With the addition of this amazing community (the largest global population of Fellows), we quickly began to far exceed our capacity at Silicon Valley Meetup. The cost and requirements of traveling from India to California were also proving challenging for many of the students.

This design constraint encouraged our team to get creative in hosting this event. It led us to develop a hypothesis — let’s bring the Meetup to the other side of the globe!

We tested this with the first ever Eastern Hemisphere Meetup in Bengaluru, India, on May 4-6, 2018. 55 Fellows from India and Australia joined us for the in-person, 3-day event.

The purpose of the Meetup is to solidify the mission of the students who are passionate about changing higher education and creating learning opportunities for their peers. This event connects Fellows with change agents across the globe – to see these people; to meet them; to learn from them. It strengthens their confidence that they are the dreamers and doers who can make a difference in the world. Gathering in person confirms the network of support that they access online throughout the year and creates a whole new level of relationship with the Fellows in attendance.

Fellows take part in a team building activity during the Eastern Hemisphere Meetup.

To accomplish this in India, we made plans to hold the event at CoWrks in Bengaluru, the largest co-working space in Southeast Asia, and at Google India. These two spaces, plus the people who run them, were our first of many affirmations that replicating the Meetup would work because the people and spaces, much like the, exist in all areas of our world. You just need to find them.

Fellows share their reactions to an activity at the beginning of the event.

We built the first evening, on May 4, around creating social relationships and connections. Even when all participants are attending the same event and are part of the same program, it does not mean each person is there for the same reason. We opened up the evening with progressive introductions for the Fellows, faculty, and team members who were registered. This introduction method is a rapid way to get participants mingling with everyone in the room. We then moved on to team-building, which to us means that we split up into four groups and created a team dance.

The following days included sessions about different approaches to thinking and how to utilize them; using space as a learning tool to enhance learning environments; teaching design thinking to others in teams or small groups; and a series of ignite talks from FABs.

Fabs, experienced Fellows who helped run the event, gave talks to attendees.

“We take great care in making activities and examples relevant to Fellows — and their countries — through the challenges and examples we propose,” said Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, co-director of the UIF program, about the design of the overall event. “We really talk to the students about the issues they are facing; we read and listen to the news, and really pay attention to what is going on in the world around these students. It’s not about copying the Silicon Valley Meetup; it’s about making it unique to the students in India.”

The three days were also designed to incorporate topics from the UIF online training — storytelling, design thinking, and more — in order for students to engage with the information in a new way, through an in-person facilitator. The participants also explored leadership through movement, participated in design challenges that represent issues across India, and listened to speakers who are experts in industry.

Fellows participate in a movement workshop.

By balancing design challenges, mini-sessions, and more, participants were able to discover new ways of learning. We also created an atmosphere for them to share their feelings, learnings and emotions. This helped them dig deep into learning experiences so they could design “sneaky lil’ experiments” to be implemented back at their schools.

Over the three intensive days, there were lots of discussions about how to support women in tech and engineering; how youth in India can have a greater impact; how to encourage students to be more creative and opportunistic; and how to help students think of themselves as the driving force for a new economy, one full of new industry, technology and startups.

Participants work on a challenge during the event.

The Fellows in attendance were hungry to learn. Some even traveled 39 hours by train to join us! Their passion was palpable as they worked to figure out ways to solve challenges at their schools and in the world. From our team’s perspective, it was exciting to work with the Fellows and faculty in-person; to watch them engage in the way we deliver a learning experience and understand how they can teach other students and faculty at their own schools in a similar way.

This event wasn’t only for the students. The Meetup also invites faculty champions to step into the shoes of the learner. It is our intention to have both the student and faculty perspective readily available throughout the event because it takes a partnership to create the long-lasting, deep-rooted institutional change that we’re seeking.

One activity focused on helping Fellows enhance their observation skills.

“It’s important for students to understand that it’s also hard for faculty to influence change on campus,” said Humera Fasihuddin, Co-Director of the UIF program. “Having faculty voices in the room helps students understand that this movement isn’t just about students asking for things or advocating for change. For faculty, it’s about truly listening to the appetite for change on campus through the student voice. Having that two way dialogue is really important here because it builds trust and develops those partnerships between students and faculty.”

Fellows brainstorm during an activity.

From a stressful design constraint came an event that benefitted not only the students and faculty in attendance, but our team as well. We learned that we are able to transport the learning experience, energy, team and connections with industry to the other side of the world.

It’s thrilling to see the economy changing for a new workforce, and we are excited to support the next generation of learners. We eagerly look forward to hosting the second annual Eastern Hemisphere Meetup!


Event organizers included UIF team members, guest facilitators and Fellows.

Photos by Avinash Daniel Films and Siddhartha Mondreti

A Family of Changemakers

Photos by Patrick Beaudouin.

The March 2018 Silicon Valley Meetup brought together 280 University Innovation Fellows and faculty for four days of learning and bonding over the shared mission of change in higher education.


Intense, shared experiences have a way of connecting people to one another in a special and long-lasting way. The University Innovation Fellows Silicon Valley Meetup is definitely one of those experiences.

Students and faculty traveled from all around the world to Stanford University, where they spent four long days opening themselves up to new skills, mindsets, experiences and people. They stood in a standing ovation after one Fellow’s teary presentation about her experience rebuilding Puerto Rico after the hurricanes last Fall; they spent hours learning how to facilitate a design thinking challenge so they can serve others at their schools; and their bodies flowed to music together in a huge mirrored dance studio.

Participants were so dedicated to the experience, and to one another, that they vocally refused to leave Stanford’s at the end of the closing celebration on Sunday night. It was a weekend where sleep wasn’t a priority, but friendships and camaraderie were.

And there were a lot of new friends to meet! 250 Fellows and 30 faculty from 77 schools in 10 countries joined our team for the Meetup on March 15-19, 2018. The event was attended by Fellows who joined the program in Spring 2018. Attendees learned new ideas and techniques to help them drive institutional change at their home universities and colleges.

During the event, Fellows collaborated with other students and faculty in experiential workshops at Stanford’s and Google. They took part in activities that helped them boost their leadership and creative confidence skills, form effective and diverse teams, and design new learning experiences for students at their schools.

Meetup Mentors

Attendees were guided through the event by 24 experienced Fellows (nicknamed Fabs, short for “fabulous”) from the U.S., India, Peru and Uruguay. The UIF team selects Fabs for the impact they’ve had at their schools, in their communities and their constant involvement in the global movement. The Fabs acted as the participants’ mentors on superhero-themed teams, facilitated workshops, designed and led the Monday outdoor experience, and helped the UIF team run the logistics of the event. Two experienced faculty champions mentored the 30 faculty in attendance and provided programming to help them build healthy relationships with Fellows at their schools.

Mental health, overcoming obstacles, inclusion, teamwork, gratitude — these were just some of the topics covered by the 24 Fabs and two faculty mentors who gave short talks throughout the Meetup. These weren’t your typical inspirational, “If I can do it, so can you” talks. The Fabs shared deeply personal stories, admitted failures and challenges, and discussed new mindsets. Although it’s difficult to summarize their diverse stories, one takeaway is that the road to success and personal fulfillment is tough, and we have to take care of ourselves in order to make progress. Or, as one Fellow noted in feedback about the event: “I learned to trust people and love myself.”

Faculty also shared stories about the Faculty Champion perspectives that might drive resistance to Fellows’ ideas (see Nick Swayne’s talk here) and how great leadership is invisible and leads from behind (see Mary Raber’s talk here). View all the ignite talks.

The Event Recap

Imagine stepping into a room and being met by 24 cheering Fabs, and receiving high-fives and hugs in addition to an agenda and name tag. That’s what Meetup registration looked like on the evening of Thursday, March 15. Participants entered as strangers and left with a whole superhero team of friends.

Early in the morning on Friday, March 16, the group boarded six busses and headed to Google for the day. There, they were hosted by Google’s Chief Innovation Evangelist, Dr. Frederik Pferdt, who led attendees through activities to help them build a culture of innovation using design thinking.

During a lunchtime break to fuel our bodies (with food), attendees got a chance to check out the Google Garage and take a massive group photo outside the Noogler Orientation Room where they spent the day. Viola Gauci of Alphabet’s X and Daniel Stratford of Google for Education shared their insights and stories with the Fellows in between design challenges.

At Stanford on Saturday, March 17, Fellows took part in activities such as movement and leadership with Aleta Hayes from Stanford’s Theater and Performance Studies; stokes (warm-up activities) with Tania Anaissie, a former experience designer (one Fellow described stokes as “brutally useful.”) Other activities included space design with the UIF team; and storytelling through video with Tyler Winick of Only People Media, who also produces the UIF program’s videos.

They heard about personal motivation, confidence and the value of taking action from Yan Budman of Spark Social Solutions, the co-creator of social good phenomenon @HiddenCash. In the evening, they participated in an unconference, where the attendees (rather than the event organizers) set the agenda and work in groups around topics of interest.

Sunday, March 18, was dedicated to unleashing the power of the UIF movement. Attendees heard from a panel of early-career Fellows, and then launched into one of the day’s big events: the d.challenge. Participants split into groups to learn how to use the d.challenge toolkit for facilitating an introductory design thinking experience at their schools. We provided them the toolkit and guidance on how to facilitate, and we challenged them to hold an event within the next few weeks at their schools.

In the afternoon, they worked on designing learning experiences with a focus on equity, led by Mimi Fox Melton of CODE2040. Attendees also met in small groups with coaches for an activity called the Sneaky Lil’ Experiments Studio, which helped them design quick real-world tests of their ideas for learning experiences back at their schools.

Sunday night, Fellows discovered the answer to the question: what’s rainbow-colored, flies, and contains inspiring words? The Meetup’s paper airplanes debrief! This is one of our favorite activities, and it serves as the formal close of the event. Everyone writes something they learned on a piece of colored paper and launches it in the air to be caught and read by someone else. We celebrated the end of the event with local food trucks, ice cream, and a dance party in the atrium, featuring a very diverse collection of music from around the world selected by the Fellows. It was so much fun that our team’s announcement that the buses had arrived to take them back to the hotel was met with vocal disapproval. Who needs sleep anyway?

On the morning of Monday, March 19, Fellows took part in an outdoor walking debrief and gratitude experience. They traveled to one of five locations to digest the Meetup experience and connect with one another: Stanford, the North Sawyer Reservoir, the Palo Alto Baylands, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Mission in San Francisco.

The #uifamily

The Force was strong with this group of Fellows; the sense of community, of family, was tangible throughout the weekend.

Fellow Curtis Harrison of the Colorado School of Mines summarized this feeling well when he said, “The biggest thing I learned is that none of us are in this fight alone. It was powerful to realize that there were groups of passionate and awesome individuals working to make the same changes at their school that the Fellows at my school are shooting for. I now know we all have the UIF community to pull energy and ideas from, even as we work on individual projects.”

Chris Dinnis, of the University of New Haven, echoed this sentiment: “No matter what I am going through, I am not alone. Someone in the UIF family will be there for me to listen and empathize.”

The Meetup is not a once-and-done experience. Fellows who met for the first time will continue to collaborate with one another long after the event. Close friendships have emerged despite being separated by oceans; Fellows check in on one another to offer advice and support; they share grant, job and internship opportunities. They even share their sofas and dinner tables for Fellows visiting their cities (a travel/lodging startup opportunity?).

This is the power of the UIF community. It’s not Silicon Valley, Stanford, or even the UIF training that makes this kind of connection possible — it’s the people. We come together in these shared experiences to get behind a common mission. We’re family, and we stick together. That’s how change happens.


View photos, videos and materials from the March 2018 UIF Silicon Valley Meetup.

A Celebration to Remember

All photos by Patrick Beaudouin.

330 students and faculty from 80 schools joined us for our program’s fifth birthday during the Silicon Valley Meetup on November 16-20, 2017.  

by Laurie Moore

It was a weekend of firsts, perfect for a birthday celebration. When the University Innovation Fellows program turned five years old in Fall 2017, our program team decided to do things a little differently for our signature Silicon Valley Meetup.

Due to the increased number of students who went through training this year, we held our first Fall Meetup, making 2017 the first year we’ve held two Meetups. For the first time, we invited back all 1,000+ Fellows who have gone through the program to join us for our first-ever music-themed design challenge. We hosted our first concert with Grammy Award-winning artist Grace Weber. And we celebrated the end of the day by blowing out candles on a chocolate birthday cake (a first) and a dance party with performances of UIF-themed raps (not a first).

It was a birthday to remember.

300 students and 30 faculty from 80 schools joined us for the Silicon Valley Meetup on November 16-20, 2017. The Meetup was the culmination of the 6-week online training for Fellows who joined the program in Fall 2017. The event gave attendees an opportunity to fill their toolboxes with ideas and techniques to help them create change when they return to their home institutions.

At the Meetup, Fellows collaborated with Fellows and faculty from different schools in experiential workshops at Stanford’s and Google. They took part in activities such as leadership and creative confidence-building exercises, forming effective and diverse teams, and designing experiences that they’ll host back at their own schools. Topics included movement building, innovation spaces, facilitating learning experiences, and new models for change in higher education.

Throughout the event, attendees were guided by literal superheroes. Twenty-six experienced Fellows (called Fabs, short for “fabulous”) acted as their mentors on superhero-themed teams, facilitated workshops, and gave short talks throughout the event. Every time we hold a Meetup, the UIF team carefully selects Fellows to fill this Fabs role. We wouldn’t be able to run the event without them, and they serve as inspirational role models for the attendees (and for us).

The Fellows learn so much from one another during the Meetup, and they also learn from local educators and thought leaders. At Google, they were hosted on Friday, November 17 by Dr. Frederik Pferdt, Chief Innovation Evangelist, who helped them explore how to build a culture of innovation using design thinking. They learned about moonshot thinking with Emi Kolawole from X and heard from legendary futurist Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering at Google.

  • Sights and sounds of the day: Teams saying “Yes, and….!” and three hundred people cheering on their teammates during our Rock Paper Scissors tournament.

At Stanford on Saturday, November 18, Fellows worked on movement and leadership with Aleta Hayes from Stanford Theater and Performance Studies, public speaking with Dan Klein from Stanford Graduate School of Business, and stokes (warm-up activities) with Tania Anaissie, a former experience designer. In the evening, they took part in an unconference, where the Fellows (rather than the event organizers) set the agenda and work in groups around topics of interest.

  • Sights and sounds of the day: Fellows sharing their ideas on the stage during the unconference, and singing “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys (video is from last year’s Meetup — we were too busy singing along to take a video this year).

Sunday was our big birthday celebration, nicknamed ui5. Nearly 100 previously-trained Fellows came back to Stanford to join us for a series of music design challenges sponsored by musicians and their foundations, with mentorship by local industry leaders.

Fellows got pumped up for the day with a performance by Stanford Taiko drummers and a talk by Ge Wang, a professor in Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. They sat in on a panel chat with Pandora’s Chief Product Officer Chris Phillips and Grammy Award-winning artist Grace Weber. At the end of the day, Grace Weber and her band performed for the enthusiastic crowd, and Fellows rushed the stage to sing along, dance, and pose for a full-auditorium selfie with the singer.

But the day didn’t end there. It wouldn’t be a Meetup without a dance party at the Fellows, music industry executives and artists all enjoyed an evening of music, dance, and delicious eats from area food trucks. The Fellows shared a video they had made to celebrate our birthday. At one point, they carefully carried a giant chocolate birthday cake with five lit candles through the atrium, and we blew out the candles surrounded by a cheering crowd. Read more about the ui5 event here.

  • Sights and sounds of the day: Powerful beats from the Stanford Taiko drummers, Grace Wang, and UIF’s own DJ Bradley Dice; and music (digital, sung and played) pulsing from every corner of the during the design challenge.

On Monday, Fellows worked in teams on projects to be implemented at their schools, with an eye towards engagement and inclusion. Lily Zheng from Stanford’s Diversity and First-Gen Students (DGEN) and Fellow Nadia Gathers led an activity to bring inclusion into focus. The end of the Meetup is always emotional. After closing with our traditional paper airplanes activity — in which attendees write something they learned on a piece of colored paper and make it fly — the room is always filled with hugs, selfies and tears.

  • Sights and sounds of the day: Cheers as a flurry of colorful paper airplanes filled the air, promises to stay in touch and collaborate as Fellows prepared to travel back to their schools around the world.

The momentum carries on after the Meetup, and many Fellows have already held activities in the last few weeks. For example, Fellows at Utah Valley University hosted their second 20,000 Passions event inspired by a similar Fellows event at the University of Delaware; Fellow Vincent Arena created a networking database to share passions and projects in our community; Fellows at City College New York held a public idea-sharing event; and a group of Fellows from India facilitated a well-received design thinking workshop at Google Developer Days in Bangalore.

On our closed UIF Facebook group, Fellows shared their favorite moments from the Meetup:

  • “Every moment had its impact on me, whether it was a conference, workshop, brainstorming, inspirational walk or casual moments with friends. I enjoyed the more casual moments because there’s where I saw that although we had our differences in culture, language, religion or skin color, we all shared one thing — our humanity.” – Gabriel Morales Figueroa, Universidad del Turabo
  • “One of my favorites was the ‘unconference’ session on Saturday night! I just loved seeing everyone collaborate together to develop important ideas. That was really powerful!” – Sean Farrell, Union College
  • “My favorite was every hug, talk and smile that people shared with me that made me feel in the right place. For me, as a graphic designer, it is so difficult thinking about innovation. I have learned it with everyone these week.” – Ale Contreras Westermeyer, Universidad del Desarrollo
  • “Meeting people from all across the world. It gave me a new respect for different cultures and opened my eyes to how important diversity is and how important inclusion is within a group to make an effective team. I also loved how welcome I felt. I felt that I fit in, was never judged and I felt positive energy all around me. I was never so happy and made so many friends I didn’t want it to end.” Cheyenne Raker, Ohio Northern University

The UIF team was so honored to celebrate the fifth anniversary of our program’s founding with such an amazing group of people. We’ve come a long way! We started with 19 Fellows in August 2012, and we now have more than 1,200 around the world. Many of our Fellows know how much our program has evolved these last five years, and how many hurdles we had to jump to get to where we are today.

We do it all for the Fellows. You are making a difference and changing higher education. Unlike most things that fall by the wayside when students graduate, your initiatives continue long after you graduate. And, most importantly, you show faculty, administration and students what’s possible when you empower students to be change agents. You are our friends, our teachers, and our heroes.

We don’t know what the next five years will look like. But we do know that we will continue to help students change the world.

— The UIF team (Leticia, Humera, Katie, Laurie and Ghanashyam)

View the event photo album and video playlist.

We Believe Music Can Change the World

Grammy Award-winning artist Grace Weber and her band perform at the University Innovation Fellows program’s ui5 celebration on November 19, 2017. Photo by Patrick Beaudouin.

450 University Innovation Fellows and faculty took part in a star-studded event to design ways for music to solve problems and bring awareness to social causes.

by Laurie Moore

The scene was wonderfully chaotic. Throughout the many spaces of the at Stanford University, music blared from cell phones, speakers, and out of headphones. One group of students built a guitar out of cardboard and sticky notes. Another group role-played an idea that would connect people to volunteer opportunities in exchange for concert rewards. Others crowded around whiteboards filled with sketches and notes that represented ideas for ways to use music to benefit society.

University Innovation Fellows prototype their solutions to the music-themed challenges during the ui5 celebration. Photos by Patrick Beaudouin.

The ui5 event brought together 450 University Innovation Fellows and faculty members from around the world to tackle music design challenges sponsored by artists and their foundations and initiatives. The event, held on Sunday, November 19, 2017 at Stanford, was a celebration of the University Innovation Fellows program’s five-year anniversary. It was one of several university music design challenges sponsored by Pandora and Real Industry, and partners for this event included Google, Microsoft and Nearpod.

Left: Binta Niambi Brown of Fermata Entertainment Ltd. and singer Grace Weber introduce their design challenge; Right: Fellow Sean Farrell leads his design challenge team to Stanford’s Photos by Patrick Beaudouin.

Attendees worked in small teams on four design challenges: how to encourage wellness and mental health in communities of color (Common and the Common Ground Foundation); how to integrate musical experiences into K-12 education (Grace Weber and The Music Lab); how to motivate concert going fans to engage in socially-conscious actions supported by artists (Incubus and The Make Yourself Foundation); and how to raise awareness about Ewing Sarcoma among college students (Manchester Orchestra and the 1 Million 4 Anna Foundation).

Teams received hands-on mentoring directly from industry leaders: Pandora Artist Marketing Manager Heather Ellis, Common’s Social Impact Advisor Michael Latt, The Make Yourself Foundation’s Director Brandon Deroche, and Real Industry’s Directors Jay LeBoeuf and Priyanka Shekar.

Left: A team of Fellows work on their project, mentored by August de los Reyes, Head of Design at Pinterest; Right: Fellows storyboard their idea for a video. Photos by Patrick Beaudouin.

“Music is a common bond that we can use to establish relationships,” said Jaclynn Siler-Dearring, a Fellow at North Carolina A&T State University and one of 18 Fellows who facilitated the design challenge. “No matter who you are or what you’re doing, there’s some kind of music that you can relate to and that can help you express what you’re going through. So we’re using music to tackle these issues.”

As part of the challenge, students were asked to prototype their solutions in the form of a video. Their ideas included playing music on school buses to engage young students, volunteering as a means to connect college students and give them access to concerts, and a health and wellness center that would creatively use the brand of an artist to reach underserved populations.

Left: Fellows working out the details of their design challenge solution; Right: Mentor Jay LeBoeuf, Executive Director of Real Industry, gives feedback to a Fellow. Photos by Patrick Beaudouin.

“We’re going to take the ideas and output from these students and share them with the artists and foundations,” said Jay LeBoeuf, Executive Director of Real Industry. “This is a diverse group of students who at this point are experts at design thinking. They’re using their fresh perspectives to tackle problems we’ve been trying to solve for years.”

Left: Stanford Taiko drummers perform for the crowd; Right: Stanford’s Ge Wang discusses the connections between music and design; Photos by Patrick Beaudouin.

In addition to the design challenge, the day also featured a talk by Ge Wang, a professor in Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, on how music and design can bring people together; a performance by Stanford’s Taiko drummers; and a panel talk with Pandora’s Chief Product Officer Chris Phillips and Grammy Award-winning artist and singer Grace Weber. Weber is deeply committed to leveraging the power of music to advance social causes; she recently launched The Music Lab, a non-profit organization in Milwaukee that builds community through music.

From left: Fellow Nadia Gathers introduces singer Grace Weber and Pandora’s Chief Product Officer Chris Phillips. Photo by Patrick Beaudouin.

After the panel talk, Grace Weber and her band performed to an audience of nearly 500, which included special guests — a group of Oakland high school students, participants in Grace Weber Music Lab Pop-up at Stanford. At the end of the concert, Fellows rushed the stage to sing along, dance, and pose for a full-auditorium selfie with the singer. The event concluded with a music and dance party in the’s atrium.

Fellows rushed the stage during Grace Weber’s performance. Photos by Patrick Beaudouin.

The ui5 event was a first for the University Innovation Fellows program: a day-long design challenge focused on music, the largest gathering of Fellows in the program’s history, and a concert with a talented singer. For the Fellows, it was a unique opportunity to dive into the world of music, one they are all familiar with, and apply their design thinking skills to solve real-world problems.

Grace welcomes the Fellows up on stage at the end of the concert. Photo by Patrick Beaudouin.

“Seeing students from all around the world working on problems from different perspectives was so refreshing,” said Jon Cook, a Fellow from Grand Valley State University. “Music is something that’s close to my heart, so applying design thinking to a field I’m so passionate about is something I haven’t done in a long time.”

“I’ve never put music and design thinking together before,” said RJ Lualhati, a Fellow from La Salle University. “We worked with artists to solve big problems. We can do this with music!”

Creating an Innovation Revolution in India

Changemakers from schools across India came together in Bangalore to reimagine public higher education.

When our program partnered with Google’s India developer training initiative, we knew that this collaboration would mean multiple trips abroad to understand the higher education system there. We never could have imagined that this would lead to our team standing in Bangalore’s beautiful coworking space CoWrks, surrounded by students and faculty whose mission was to lob hundreds of paper airplanes directly at us.

It felt like a one-sided snowball fight, but this was actually an exercise to understand how iterating through many prototypes relates to a project’s success. Several program team members bravely stood in front of the firing line to determine which paper airplanes flew the required distance and which did not (direct body hits to judges were not encouraged, but not disqualified).

(Left) Attendees test their paper airplanes; (Right) teaching team members judge which airplanes pass the test.

The scene afterwards — paper airplanes swept into a pile, laughter from every corner of the room, teams of faculty and students high-fiving one another — looked more like a playground than a workshop. But this was not a conventional workshop, and these were not conventional participants. They are the faculty and students who are leading an innovation revolution in India’s higher education system.

The event took place in Bangalore, June 21-24, 2017, and combined a workshop for 45 higher education faculty and administrators, called the Teaching and Learning Studio, with a gathering of 55 University Innovation Fellows from across India. The teaching team was comprised of five University Innovation Fellows team members and four colleagues from Stanford’s, the University of Maryland and Clemson University.

The workshop helped faculty understand design thinking and incorporate it into their teaching practices. To do this, they took part in a multi-day design challenge exploring the question ”How might we help women succeed in the technology workforce?” They interviewed local women who worked in technology fields, identified challenges and prototyped solutions. On the third day of the workshop, University Innovation Fellows joined the faculty, and the group took part in sessions on empathy, team building and collaborative campus projects. One evening also featured inspirational talks from young local entrepreneurs and several faculty and Fellows.

Our team was there to learn as much as to teach. Below are just a few insights from our experience.

When passionate students and faculty become allies to create change, amazing things can happen.

This has been a core belief of ours since we started this program five years ago, and it was definitely reaffirmed with this group. We observed some great strides in empathy work during the event, as students and faculty shared challenges and wishes during group discussions, and worked together on projects for their respective schools.

A team of Fellows and faculty members collaborate on a campus project.

Fellows in India have been working to improve the conditions needed to support innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education. The concept of students as change agents is fairly new in India, but Fellows have been encouraged by their campus leadership. They have met with success holding workshops, creating makerspaces, and working on projects such as enabling seamless wifi across their campuses.

Speaking from their experience as change agents, Fellows were asked to give faculty candid feedback about the factors that are impeding innovation, such as the little latitude students have in setting their own schedule, pursuing extra-curricular projects and choosing their own course of study. Students expressed that they feel as though they are between “a rock and a hard place” with pressure from their parents to focus on the highest marks, while hearing from industry that experience working with teams on real-world projects is a bare minimum necessity for entry-level employees. Yet, there’s little wiggle room in today’s constrained academic requirements to allow students to learn these much needed skills.

Fellows describe their challenges during an empathy exercise.

For their part, faculty were heartened to see that student initiative could support their own efforts of convincing campus leadership to embrace change. They spoke about the challenges of being a non-autonomous institution with governing bodies requiring adherence to curricular and academic guidelines.

In order to envision new possibilities, we have to challenge our assumptions and adopt an open mindset.

During the workshop, we heard several versions of this statement, including “to learn, you must unlearn,” and “you have to empty the glass before you fill it.” During their design challenge, faculty were asked to make explicit their assumptions connected to the challenge. They were then able to gather information to support or challenge those assumptions by interviewing women working in the tech field.

Faculty members list assumptions in the beginning of their design challenge.

This exercise shouldn’t be limited to design challenges; when we’re trying to solve a problem, especially as a team, it’s valuable to spend time identifying our assumptions about both the problem and the possible solutions. Doing so helps us empty our “glass” of all of our preconceived notions about what’s possible.

It’s also important to adopt an open mindset in order to explore new possibilities. One exercise we facilitated with this group to demonstrate this is “Yes, let’s!” We ask for group members to shout out actions, such as “Let’s do jumping jacks” or “Let’s lie down and look at the stars.” Then the group responds “Yes, let’s!” and role-plays whatever was proposed. This activity helps participants free themselves from judging and immediately rejecting anything that is new and unfamiliar. In order to innovate, it’s necessary to consider and explore novel possibilities even when they may seem outlandish at the beginning.

Faculty members take part in the “Yes, let’s!” role-playing activity.

A community of like-minded peers is an immensely valuable resource.

As our program continues to expand to new schools and countries, we’ve come across a huge variety of challenges on each campus that require unique and innovative solutions. However, the one thing that all of these schools share is a few (or more!) passionate students and faculty who are dedicated to improving their schools and helping others.

Fellows and faculty take part in a tournament-style “Rock, Paper, Scissors” competition.

Members of our UIF community have reported that a key ingredient for success has been belonging to a community of like-minded peers on their campus. Strong allies have the potential to become collaborators, mentors, champions and resource providers. These allies can be both faculty and students, and can come from places including outside their home department and even their schools.

When you find your community, keep one another motivated and inspired, celebrate one another’s successes, and help one another learn from failures. As Fellow Sai Karan from MITS said in his talk during the workshop, “It’s not about getting inspired. It’s about staying inspired. How do you do that? You inspire others.”

There’s more than one way to throw a paper airplane.

Sure, you can pinch an airplane in between your thumb and forefinger, arc your arm back, and toss. Do you know about the two-handed fling? Many of the planes that passed the finish line were thrown like this….

Of course there’s a metaphor here. Even if we think we know how something is supposed to be done, there are always new ways, and there will always be people with new perspectives who can help us open up a world of possibilities.

– The UIF team

We are incredibly thankful to Google for giving us the opportunity to work with amazing change agents in India, and to CoWrks for providing their incredibly versatile space for our workshop and taking such good care of us and our participants.

(Left) The CoWrks event team; (Right) The workshop teaching team

Participating schools:
Alpha College of Engineering
Andhra Pradesh State Skill Development Corporation (APSSDC)
CMR Institute of Technology
Dayananda Sagar College of Engineering
Dhanekula Institute of Engineering and Technology
Galgotias College of Engineering and Technology
Galgotias University
Godavari Institute of Engineering and Technology
IIIT – R K Valley
IIIT – Nuzvid
Institute of Management and Technology (IMT)
KKR & KSR Institute of Technology and Sciences
KLS Gogte Institute of Technology
Madanapalle Institute of Technology & Science
Malnad College of Engineering
Mount Carmel College
NMAM Institute of Technology
P.E.S. Institute of Technology (PESIT)
R V College of Engineering
RVR & JC College of Engineering
Sagi Rama Krishnam Raju Engineering College
Shri Shirdi Sai Institute of Science and Engineering
Siddharth Institute of Engineering and Technology
Sri Padmavathi Mahila Vishwavidyalaya
St. Mary’s Groups of Institutions
Vasireddy Venkatadri Institute of Technology
Visvesveraya Technological University


Inclusive Design at Microsoft’s One Week Hackathon

Four University Innovation Fellows from the University of Technology Sydney were selected as the winning team in a Microsoft inclusive design challenge for Fellows. Their prize? A trip to Redmond, WA, to participate in the Microsoft One Week Hackathon.

The University of Technology Sydney Fellows at the Microsoft campus in March 2017. We flew back to be part of the Microsoft One Week Hackathon!

by Irene Hsieh, Corey Stewart, Peter Cole and Matthew Childs

Originally posted on Medium.

“3! 2! 1! LET’S HACK!”
A sea of red, white and black towels raised in the air as we cheered. Confetti showered over all of us and I see a drone in the distance. We were standing in the heart of Microsoft, and in that moment, we were part of the Microsoft One Week Hackathon 2017.

Our team comprised of four University Innovation Fellows from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) was selected as the winning team from a Global Inclusive Design challenge and won a trip to Microsoft’s headquarters in late July to join the world’s largest hackathon. This was an unforgettable week filled with breakthrough insights, mind-blowing moments and their discovery of the technology giant – Microsoft. The following is a recount of an adventure that most would describe as an opportunity of a lifetime.

During the March 2017 Silicon Valley Meetup, Microsoft challenged us to create a solution to “Improve diversity and inclusion for first year students”. Upon returning to Australia we ran interviews, workshops and brainstorming sessions to discover our problem area. We were intrigued to find that international students who made up of 25% of our cohort were isolated from the community. When announced as the winning team we were determined to instigate further and carry our mission to the other side of the world.

On the 22nd July we arrived in Seattle with anticipation. Driving into the modern campus we were blown away by the sheer size of the campus that consisted of 115 buildings with over 40,000 employees. Microsoft manages not only Office and Windows, but products and services including Xbox, LinkedIn, Bing, Skype, Surface, Azure and others we were yet to discover. Excitement for the coming week quickly overtook our nervousness.

We met up with Ryan, a Culture Engineer at Microsoft who was our host for the week. Our first day of the hackathon involved heavily brainstorming around our question. In our hackathon tents, we met the hackers of the diverse projects around us. From 3D printed prosthetic arms for affordable prices, to tech-based solutions for diabetics to hacks for Minecraft and Nintendo games, the energy and talent was contagious. We also met the Director of the Microsoft Garage, the team responsible for organizing the hackathon.

As University of Technology Sydney Fellows, we ideated around our board in the midst of the bustling hackathon. With the many post-it notes, we proclaimed ourselves the winners of the most colourful board competition at the hackathon.

After 48 hours of intense hacking, we built a strategic plan of events for holistic change of campus. We settled on a sustainable approach that was diverse and inclusive of the UTS community and will live on far past our time on campus. You’ll hear more about our solution soon!

Our solution included:

  • Revamping our first week of semester for all first years to engage and seek out new opportunities. The idea aims to break down superficial barriers such as age, race, discipline and factors that have subconsciously hindered connections.
  • Industry hackathons to be run regularly on campus. This will give students an opportunity to learn and engage with industry networks in a learning environment.
  • Increase student awareness and recognising the “whys” of educational requirements. This will facilitate students to shift their mindset to find their “mission” not “major” during their time at school.
  • Set up an innovation board to encourage events and conversations.
  • Set up an innovation centre to foster innovative and entrepreneurial spirit on campus.

We were extremely lucky to share our ideas with Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott who listened with enthusiasm. We were also graced with the presence of CEO Satya Nadella at the hackathon!

Throughout the hackathon, the hundreds of sticky notes on our board caught the eye many participants including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and CTO Kevin Scott, who stopped by to learn more about our work. We discussed the possibility of working with industry partners such as Microsoft to facilitate programs on campus to boost student engagement and help them solve real world problems in innovative ways. It was surreal having such important figures take interest in our ideas.

On Wednesday, we met with employees across Microsoft product groups to get a feel for the flavors of innovation. First up was Debbie Thiel, Group Program Manager at Microsoft. Debbie shared the importance to look into the future of technology and help shift the technology to be inclusive of all types of people in the world. Afterwards, we headed to the Microsoft Envisioning Centre. Not knowing what was ahead of us, we got a private tour of the space usually reserved for Fortune 500 C-level executives and government leaders. The center is a space for Microsoft to envision what the future of smart homes, living spaces and offices could be. We felt like kids in a candy store and we goggled at every piece of technology. Mundane activities such as conducting meetings to unlocking your front door had been reimagined with a large focus on inclusivity and simplicity.

Doing empathy work with Xbox Inclusive Tech Lab by Senior Interaction Designer Bryce Johnson. We learnt about the disabilities Microsoft is designing for. We put on glasses which impaired your vision to empathize with individuals with tunnel vision or other vision impairment.

On campus, we were given a tour of the Xbox Inclusive Tech Lab by Senior Interaction Designer Bryce Johnson. Our first experience was putting on glasses which allowed us to empathize with different types of visual impairments. Microsoft uses these centers to bring in people with a range of abilities to ensure products and solutions best suit their needs. This leads to new innovations such as; different tones for menu selections, new controller designs and sub packs to help hearing impaired gamers experience sound. This is the heart of Inclusive Design, by designing for a person with specific abilities, the improvements will be used by many other types of people as well. Designing for inclusion and focusing on empathy work with users is why and how Microsoft stays ahead.

Next was the Microsoft’s anechoic chamber, the quietest room in the world. The room sits at -20db at the edge of the physical limit of -23dB; the sound atom’s make bouncing off each other. The designer of the chamber, Gopal Gopal, gave us an unforgettable tour of the lab. At one point, he left us in the dark and soundless chamber and within minutes you could hear the blood flowing in your ears and bones creaking as you turned your head. We learnt about how critical it is to have environments with the lowest possible sound baseline while testing new hardware products.

We were given a tour in the quietest room in the world by the designer himself. At one point he left us in the dark, soundless room we could hear the blood flowing in our ears and bones creaking as you turned your head.

As we continued to hear from people across the company, we met with Ryan Phillips, UX Designer at Xbox and Oscar Murillo, Creative Director of Inclusive Design at Microsoft. These individuals provided insightful details into their work, their journey to Microsoft and some of the greatest insights they’ve gained from their time at Microsoft.

An amazing 48 hours hacking with 18 000 people worldwide! We were extremely inspired by the projects, talent and energy on the Microsoft campus. It was a once in a life time experience!

Another extraordinary individual we met was Mandeep Singh, Program Manager of EDU strategy at Microsoft. After spending time at a startup and Microsoft, he helped contrast the experiences and shared his advice for students. Singh reflects “I genuinely believe in that 18 to 24 months of working on my startup, I learnt way more than I did than my bachelors or masters degree afterwards.” Furthermore he pinpointed the importance of learning and the passion required in a startup, this gave us an understanding and context to the advices we are often given.

Last but more importantly, this entire experience would not have been the same without Ryan who helped plan the week. This experience has taught us so much about Microsoft’s culture, products and the people there. We could not have asked for a better week at Microsoft, thank you Ryan!

A photo of us in front of the Microsoft Envisioning Centre with the amazing Ryan Philips. We were able to see some of the greatest highlights on campus!

We could never have imagined that only four months after receiving our fellowship, we would be back for an adventure like no other. The experiences and lessons learnt during our adrenaline filled week have already rippled in how we see and do things back at the university. This trip gave us invaluable lessons into inclusivity, innovation and creativity. With this gained perspective, we are excited to continue engaging with our community and ignite meaningful impacts on our campus. Stay updated on our upcoming adventures through our Facebook page. We can’t wait to share with you all the stories ahead!

Check out more photos here!

Learning to Lead Change Together

University Innovation Fellows and faculty explored new ways to reimagine higher education during the Silicon Valley Meetup in March 2017.

by Laurie Moore

A team of Fellows brainstorming at Google during the Silicon Valley Meetup, March 2017. Photo by Patrick Beaudouin.

On a sunny afternoon in March at Stanford University, several hundred students designed experiments to test out new learning opportunities at their schools. An hour later, they listened, rapt, as Stephanie Santoso shared with them what it was like to help create the first ever White House Maker Faire. An hour after that, they were dancing to Bollywood music. They had breakthrough insights, forged new friendships with students from other countries, and listened as their peers shared their personal stories of struggle. This is the University Innovation Fellows Silicon Valley Meetup.

Nearly 300 Fellows and 30 faculty sponsors from 77 universities in 8 countries traveled to the San Francisco Bay Area on March 9-13, 2017, for the University Innovation Fellows (UIF) program’s signature event, the Silicon Valley Meetup. Attendees took part in immersive experiences at Stanford University’s, Google, Microsoft and other Silicon Valley organizations.

The Meetup was the culmination of the 6-week, video conference-based online training for Fellows who joined the program in Fall 2016 and Spring 2017. This training helps Fellows understand their campus ecosystems and design educational opportunities for their peers. At the Meetup, Fellows took part in experiential workshops and exercises designed to inspire them, give them opportunities to collaborate with different schools, and provide them with tools to take action when they return to their home institutions. The activities focused on topics including movement building, innovation spaces, how to design and facilitate learning experiences, and new models for change in higher education.

The event kicked off on Thursday night with registration and dinner, where students sampled some of Silicon Valley’s best food trucks below strings of outdoor lights. During registration, attendees met their super-hero-themed teams and team leaders. These team leaders were 24 Fellows who acted as mentors to the participants, facilitated workshops, and gave short talks throughout the event.

On Friday morning, the Fellows hopped on charter buses and headed to their first Meetup location: Google. The group was hosted by Dr. Frederik Pferdt, Chief Innovation Evangelist. They took part in hands-on activities and learned about the innovation culture at Google, research on effective teams, and Google’s People Development group — a fresh take on the role of a human resources department.

Fellows prototyping a game at Google. Photo by Patrick Beaudouin.

They also heard about the University Innovation Fellows program’s expansion into India from William Florance, Google’s Head of University Programs for Developer Training. Thanks to Google-funded expansion, 77 students from India have joined the program; 38 of those Fellows attended the Meetup. Three Fellows from CMR Institute of Technology in Bengaluru also shared their stories and experiences in India.

“Technology brings us into the future, but our creativity decides how this future will be shaped,” said Pferdt. “Every year, I am excited to be able to experience that contagious creativity the Fellows bring to Google and how they are tackling challenges as change agents at universities across the U.S. and now the world. It has been a great honor for me to host the Fellows for the last 5 years. Every time, I am confident that our future is in good hands.”

The Fellows visited the program’s home at Stanford University’s for the first time on Saturday, March 11. They spent the day taking part in activities to help them reimagine learning, including sessions on storytelling and the ways space influences behavior. For one session, on how to leverage different thinking styles when working in teams, attendees wore t-shirts representing the colors of their default thinking styles. The result was a rainbow of students and faculty filling the to the brim, demonstrating the diversity of approaches that they can take when working together.

Participants also heard from several speakers. Stanford professor Tom Byers hosted a panel of education and entrepreneurship thought leaders: Steve Blank, often referred to as the father of the Lean Startup movement; Errol Arkilic, who was instrumental in the creation of the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps (Innovation Corps); and Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Obama.

Tom Byers hosts a panel discussion at Stanford’s with Steve Blank, Errol Arkilic and Tom Kalil. Photo by Patrick Beaudouin.

Another speaker at the event was Daniel Seddiqui, known for his journey of working 50 Jobs in 50 States when he struggled to find a job after college. Seddiqui shared his wildly entertaining story with Fellows about his “job prototyping” experience, which included roles like a stilt walker at an amusement park in Florida and a coal miner in West Virginia. He encouraged Fellows to find the drive within themselves to overcome the challenges and rejections that they will face as they explore the world.

On Sunday, the Fellows visited Microsoft, where they were hosted by Jeff Ramos, manager of The Microsoft Garage, a project division that helps Microsoft employees solve problems in innovative ways. Innovators at Microsoft shared their insights on how to shift culture within an institutional setting and urged Fellows to push themselves out of their comfort zone to pursue different experiences.

Following the talks, Fellows took part in an unconference, during which Fellows set the agenda and organized around topics of interest. The topics ranged from “How might we create and promote diversity and inclusive excellence on our college campuses?” to “Rethinking freshmen orientation to promote I&E [innovation and entrepreneurship].” View photos of all the topics and ideas here.

Fellows discuss ideas during an unconference at Microsoft. Photo by Patrick Beaudouin.

The Fellows came back to the for the final stretch of the event — an exploration on leading change. They were asked to pick a goal and brainstorm quick experiments that would help them test out their ideas. During the workshop, several community members provided inspiration and shared how they applied design thinking to their projects of reimagining philanthropy, tackling homelessness and reforming K-12 education.

After creating their experiments, Fellows heard from Stephanie Santoso, who served as the Senior Advisor for Making at the White House under President Obama. There, she helped develop the Nation of Makers initiative, the first White House Maker Faire and the National Week of Making. Santoso spoke about inclusion and challenged Fellows to spread the experience of the maker movement to communities that lack access.

A panel of Fellows discuss makerspaces with Stephanie Santoso (far right). Photo by Patrick Beaudouin.

“Constantly thinking about who else should be at the table, who should we be talking to, whose voice should be represented here is super important,” Santoso said. Her last piece of advice: “Always have fun!…It’s important to remember in the work you’re doing.”

There was one surprise left: a tradition upheld at every Meetup. Participants were each given sheets of colorful paper and asked to write an insight or takeaway from the meetup. They folded the paper into airplanes and launched them into the air. Each person caught an airplane that wasn’t theirs, read it, and shared it with others around them, spreading the insights from one person to many.

Fellow Mahshid Jalalian shares her takeaway from the Meetup before folding it into a paper airplane. Photo by Patrick Beaudouin.

“Being at the UIF meetup this year was really life-changing. It was empowering to be surrounded by so many people who care about changing the world for the better and are actually taking steps to do that,” said Kelly Rodriguez, a Fellow at Pepperdine University. She tweeted a video of the flurry of paper airplanes, writing “Do you ever have those moments where you just knew you were supposed to be ‘here’? That’s what happened this weekend.”

It’s hard to describe the general feeling in the room as hundreds of people launched their brightly colored paper insights into the open space of the atrium. Some smiled, some laughed, some shielded their eyes from the downpour of paper, some wiped tears from their eyes. But whatever they felt— inspired, tired, excited, sad, hopeful— everyone belonged.

View all photos, videos and resources from the Meetup at

Summer Updates and Fall News

To our student and faculty community, welcome back to school! The new academic year is an exciting opportunity to explore new opportunities for learning and to continue making change on campus.

It’s also a brand new year for the University Innovation Fellows program. We are quickly settling into our new home at Stanford University’s, after the mid-summer conclusion of the NSF-funded National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter).

What have we been up to over the summer?

  • In June, we hosted a workshop with a colleague from Google as a partner event of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit called “Hack Your Creative Culture.” Fellow and facilitator Alexandra Seda shares her experience at the workshop and stories of five entrepreneurs she met in this blog post (and see photos here).
  • In June, we also hosted sessions and the Fellows presented posters at the annual ASEE Conference in New Orleans (see photos here).
  • In July, we hosted the first Teaching and Learning Studio workshop for higher education teachers (see photos here). These workshops help educators experiment with new ways of engaging students using design thinking.
  • On September 6, we launched the orientation for our Fall 2016 training.
  • We’ve got a big international opportunity in the works. Stay tuned for the announcement!

Fellows spoke and facilitated a workshop at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University in June 2016l

Fellows facilitated a workshop at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University in June 2016.

What’s new this year?

  • The University Fellows Program has gone international! We’re accepting students from around the world.
  • We’re offering new workshops for higher education faculty and teaching staff called the Teaching and Learning Studio. The first workshop took place in July (see above), and additional workshops are planned in January 2017, June 2017 and July 2017. They are held at the and facilitated by the UIF program team and Fellows. Learn more here.
  • We’re handing over the reins of our Instagram feed to Fellows who are hosting events and taking part in some exciting venture. Find out what they’ve been up to this summer.
  • Our new home at the will provide our Fellows and faculty with lots of new opportunities for engagement. Stay on the lookout for new friends and resources.

Fellows and program leaders hosted the first Teaching and Learning Studio for faculty in July 2016.

Fellows and program leaders hosted the first Teaching and Learning Studio for faculty in July 2016.

What will continue as always?

  • Being a program of Stanford’s allows us to maintain the same mission and vision as we had with Epicenter and also provides us with new support from teaching experts and collaborators.
  • We will continue to place an emphasis on design thinking, entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity.
  • Applicants can be students from all majors and all levels of higher education (freshmen through PhD students).
  • We’ll hold two application and training cycles each year (next deadline is October 31, 2016).
  • We’ll host the annual Silicon Valley Meetup in the spring and Regional Meetups throughout the year (stay tuned for information on this year’s Regional Meetups).
  • There will be many opportunities for Fellows and faculty to join us at conferences and workshops around the world.

Fellows at the annual American Society for Engineering Education conference in June 2016

Fellows at the annual American Society for Engineering Education conference in June 2016.

Yes, we’ve got a lot going on, as we always do. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Want to get involved? Here are some ways you can join in the fun:

  • Share your updates with us. We want to bring you with us to events and conferences and feature your work on the UIF website (and the soon-to-launch new website). Once we know what you’re working on, we’ll know what opportunities to connect you with. Send us a quick note in this Google form.
  • Give our social media followers a look into the work you’re doing at your school. Email Katie to guest-post on the UIF Instagram channel. On Twitter? Include #uifellows or @uifellows on your tweets. 
  • If you’ve got a story burning at your fingertips, we have a UIF Medium channel, and we’d love to include your article. Email Laurie for more details.
  • Fellows, want to meet some new future friends and help out as a mentor? We’re looking for volunteers to help with several projects, including interviewing Spring 2017 candidates. Let us know in the UIF Volunteer Opportunities form.
  • Fellows: find out what your community is up to! Connect with all of us on Slack, the closed Facebook group, the google group, and subscribe to our blog.


From the UIF team, we love you all, and we continue to be immensely proud of the work you’re doing. You are making a lasting impact on your university and in the lives of your peers. It’s important work, and we’re so glad you’re doing it.

Your #UIFamily,

Humera, Leticia, Katie and Laurie

Online Information Session: April 12, 2016

April 18th Update: Video Recording of Info Session Now Available…


Interested in bringing the University Innovation Fellows program to your campus? Join our 30-minute info session.

The University Innovation Fellows program will host an online information session for interested students, faculty and leaders from across the U.S. and, for the first time, from around the world. This short session will highlight the impact of the program and key elements of how it works, through the voices and stories of current Fellows. The session will be recorded and shared afterwards on our application page.


To join, select from the following options:

1) Web Browser (easiest option)



2) Laptop paired with room system (best experience)

a) Dial: or in the room system.

b) Go to

c) Enter the pairing code displayed on your room system screen into your browser.


3) Room System

a) Dial: or in the room system.

b) Enter Meeting ID: 520023783 and Passcode: 1963


4) Joining via a mobile device?

a) Download the app from App Store or Google Play.

iPhone/iPad :

Android :

b) Enter event ID : yl79885


5) Phone

a) Dial one of the following numbers :

+1 (760) 699-0393 (US)

+1 (877) 305-0280 (US Toll Free)

See all numbers here:

b) Enter the participant PIN: 4099388194 followed by # to confirm.

Change Agents Activated

Students take the lead in the evolution of higher education at the University Innovation Fellows 2015 Annual Meetup. Originally posted via Epicenter

by Laurie Moore

At 8:00 pm on Saturday, February 21, the second day of the University Innovation Fellows 2015 Annual Meetup was drawing to a close. Nearly 160 Fellows from across the U.S. had just participated in a 12-hour day of activities at Stanford University, including a one-hour movement workshop, a self-guided tour of campus to discover innovation spaces, and a four-hour, five-session circuit of experiential activities.

They should have been tired.

Instead, they sang karaoke together. They danced. They played basketball outside in the warm (to the East Coasters) evening air. They made s’mores around a fire pit and told their favorite stories from the day. They took selfies and gathered in small groups to learn more about one another and their schools. When the buses came at 9:30 pm to take the students back to their hotels, they demanded one final karaoke song, and then another.

It was hard to believe that these University Innovation Fellows met for the first time as a community only 48 hours earlier.

The University Innovation Fellows program, run by Epicenter, offers training and support for students to become change agents at their schools. Through the training and ongoing support, Fellows learn to navigate their campus landscapes and create offerings that hone peers’ entrepreneurial mindsets and instill creative confidence.

Fellows on the last day of the Annual Meetup at Stanford's

Fellows on the last day of the Annual Meetup at Stanford’s

While many Fellows had met online during their intense 6-week video-conference-based training, the Annual Meetup allowed them to connect in person for the first time. Together, they had the opportunity to share experiences and insights from their schools, collaborate on new strategies for change in education, understand their role in this national movement, and learn from leaders in higher education and industry.

The Fellows at the 2015 Meetup were from two cohorts trained in Fall 2014 and Spring 2015. Also in attendance were 12 of the Fellows’ faculty sponsors, who who were invited to attend and participate alongside students as partners in achieving institutional change.

The Meetup was organized by the University Innovation Fellows program staff at Epicenter: Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, Humera Fasihuddin, Katie Dzugan and Laurie Moore. Eight Fellows assisted with the design and facilitation of the event and hosted several sessions: Atin Mittra, Meenu Singh and Valerie Sherry from the University of Maryland, College Park; Greg Wilson from the University of Georgia; Ryan Phillips from the University of Oklahoma; Bre Przestrzelski from Clemson University; Ben Riddle from Furman University; and new Fellow Bradley Dice from William Jewell College.


Rhythm of a Movement






The event spanned three days. The first day at Google was hosted by Frederik Pferdt, head of Innovation and Creativity Programs at Google. Activities included an inside look into Google X with Amanda Kelly, a design challenge in teams, a panel discussion with representatives from People Development at Google, a spaces tour, and a talk on Google for Entrepreneurs with Daniel Navarro.

The second and third days of the Meetup took place at Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design ( Sessions on Saturday included a leadership through movement session with Stanford Dance and Performance Arts instructor Aleta Hayes, an exploration of Stanford innovation spaces, a talk with Olga Dotter from Citrix on the intersection of lean startup and design thinking, a circuit of five experiential activities, and a workshop to help students create and facilitate similar activities at their schools.

Sunday activities included a panel with educators and students on new models of education, examples of campus initiatives from current Fellows, and a workshop on how students can accelerate change in higher education. Several special guests stopped by the meetup, including Stanford alumnus and violinist Kai Kight and author and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki.

Surprise guest: Kai Kight

Surprise guest: Kai Kight

At the end of the event, Fellows shared their insights from the event in the form of sticky note “bumper stickers” which they placed on a life-size, hand-painted University Innovation Fellows Volkswagen van. Examples included “Never give up,” “Think, Do, Fail, Learn,” “Innovation or Bust,” and “Be the change.”

After the three-day event ended, Fellows returned to their campuses. Their charge: to be the change they want to see in higher education.

Fellows Bus after creating bumper stickers.

Fellows Bus after creating bumper stickers.

More 2015 Annual Meetup materials and articles:

Talking With America’s Future: Removing Barriers, by Shawn Drury

Event photo gallery:

Meet the changemakers: map of student attendees at the University Innovation Fellows Annual Meetup 2015:


Purpose, Passion and the Quest for ‘Why?’: Today’s College Students Yearn to Make Sense of STEM

The Massachusetts STEM Summit, held October 22, 2014, had roughly 1,300 attendees at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts. Attendees traveled from across the state to discuss engaging k-12 students in science, technology, math, engineering and independent research. The University Innovation Fellows were invited to present in the afternoon. The following excerpt appeared in the MA STEM Summit program booklet. 

“Weed-em-out’ courses, dry lectures, rigorous math and an array of prerequisites stamp the love of learning out of young college students. Some universities are getting it right, but overall not so much. Fewer than 40% of students who enter college intending to major in a STEM field complete a STEM degree, according to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Our nation needs us to produce one million more STEM college graduates than predicted. So, how do we, as K-12 educators, who care about the future of our most promising students, ensure a successful handoff to our collegiate counterparts? A new program called the University Innovation Fellows empowers college students to develop a culture of creativity and innovation. These students are developing strategies and learning opportunities that engage peers in project-based learning and human-centered design. The model of empowering students to develop their voice to serve as partners to faculty in bringing about institutional change has been a fruitful one, yielding innovation spaces, new courses and has even attracted alumni investment in new programs. University Innovation Fellows believe connecting high school graduates to a creative community of makers and innovators is the answer. Connecting freshman to learning opportunities that inspire students based on relevant and real-world problems as soon as they arrive at college is a means to keeping students engaged in STEM. As 168 Fellows at 85 schools work to expand and attract peers to innovation and entrepreneurship programs, the opportunity exists to create a bridge for high school students to a cool creative culture of like-minded students who can introduce and engage them in the innovation ecosystem. Recognized by the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, the University Innovation Fellows is a program of the Epicenter and is funded by the National Science Foundation. In this session, participants will be introduced to the work of two Fellows who also volunteer their time in local K-12 schools to inspire young STEM enthusiasts. Learn what triggered their interests in STEM and hear their recommendations for high schools to guide students towards successful STEM careers.

The session was moderated by the Fellows Senior Program Officer, Humera Fasihuddin. The two Fellows panelists were Ellery Addington-White and Kevin Desjardins (below).

Ellery Addington-White

Ellery Addington-White

Ellery is currently a senior at Beloit College in Wisconsin working to complete a Computer Science degree. He is actively involved in CELEB, the Center for Entrepreneurship in Liberal Education at Beloit. Find out more about his student priorities here.

Ellery became very interested in digital art in high school, which led him to teach the class to other students his junior year. He now volunteers his time to work with the Beloit Boys & Girls Club and other K-12 youth to make innovation, entrepreneurship, coding and computer science more accessible.



Kevin Desjardins, University of Massaschusetts, Lowell

Kevin Desjardins

Kevin is a senior at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He is completing his degree in Civil Engineering and his taking his capstone project to the next level by creating an immersive, hands-on, project-based learning experience in Haiti. Find out more about his student priorities here.

Kevin has always had an interest in engineering. He works closely with Future Cities and other local organizations to bring underserved youth STEM education learning opportunities.





Hypothesis Affirmed! Greenville, SC Ignited By Southeastern Regional Meetup

Last week, we tested our hypothesis that we could bring together a group of Fellows with other college students interested in creativity, innovation and design thinking and replicate the energy of our Annual Meetup at Google and Stanford at a place very far from Silicon Valley. We chose Greenville, South Carolina. Why? Because two of our star University Innovation Fellows happen to be in that region: Ben Riddle of Furman University, and Bre Przestrzelski of Clemson University, and their amazingly supportive faculty sponsors Ross McClain (Department Chair, Art, Furman) and John Desjardin (Associate Professor, Bioengineering, Clemson). What ensued gave strong support to our hypothesis.

Ben and Bre’s work analyzing the Furman and Clemson Innovation & Entrepreneurship ecosystem informed their strategic plans to enhance that ecosystem (Furman Student Priorities, Clemson Student Priorities). They completed this work last year, over a 6-week WebEx-based program to become University Innovation Fellows and, as part of their training, flew to Google Headquarters and Stanford’s world-renowned (the Hasso Plattner Design Institute). Over three days, 88 Fellows from all over the nation soaked up the innovation culture in Silicon Valley and discussed ways to lead a movement in student innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship on their campuses (March 2014 agenda, and photos). The Annual Meetup was transformative; both Ben and Bre saw the opportunity to replicate the magic and attract peers on campus.

Again, why Greenville? Program leaders, over the year that followed, discovered just how cool of a community Greenville, SC is, as both Fellows reported back the success and overwhelming support they received from institutional and community leaders. Greenville has a strong history of public-private partnership dating back to the entrepreneurial Mayor Max, under whose leadership the city attracted a major Hotel Chain and narrowed a four-lane thoroughfare into the charming downtown Main Street filled with great restaurants, culture, art and more. So, when the pair invited Epicenter and its founders, Stanford University and VentureWell, to co-facilitate design thinking and lean startup sessions with local experts, program leaders enthusiastically agreed. Thus was born the plan for the…

Southeastern Regional Meetup, Hosted by Clemson University and Furman University

SEregionalsmallEpicenter organizers, University Innovation Fellow program leaders and Fellows flew in from California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, New York and the Virgin Islands. Fellows drove from North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and even as far away as Michigan and Massachusetts! They were joined by 20 Furman and 20 Clemson students. All had one thing in common: a desire to learn the techniques of design thinking and lean startup, two approaches used to develop strong human-centered ideas and develop scalable business models around them. Using real-world issues from the Greenville community, students applied new-found techniques in observation, empathy, brainstorming, prototyping, customer segmentation & value proposition development.

Students developed low-resolution prototypes and articulated real opportunities to improve Greenville – a more friendly main street and redesigning the eating experience. Students learned by doing and they discovered that their entrepreneurial mindset could be honed on real-world challenges in their local community. On the flip side, community members saw students as motivated and capable individuals who bring a fresh-perspective and an open mind to arrive at highly innovative and achievable solutions to their challenges. One student openly remarked during the debrief, “I learned more this weekend than in the entire semester,” a sentiment often heard by many who first encounter hands-on and experiential learning opportunities. The mood at the reception with community and academic leaders was one you’d see at a sporting event, as evident by the Bear Ninja Cowboy video posted below. This kind of enthusiasm for learning can transform our nation’s higher education institutions. We look forward to replicating this success in Washington D.C. and at UMD on November 1st and 2nd, ringing in National Entrepreneurship Month with an invitation only Meetup for 100 University Innovation Fellows. More on that soon!

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Co-director, University Innovation Fellows (on behalf of Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, Katie Dzugan & Laurie Moore)


A Big THANK YOU to our Collaborators and Supporters

We are extremely grateful to the many local community members, without whom, this past weekend would not have been possible:

Design Thinkers Group USA, especially Joel, Marc and Susan, for their tremendous efforts in co-designing and co-facilitating a two-day experiential learning experience with our colleague Leticia Britos Cavagnaro from Stanford.

John Desjardin, Clemson, for his awesome giant room-sized Business Model Canvas exercise, imparting Lean Startup skills to participants in an experiential way (and his moral support).

Ross McClain, Furman, for forging an unprecedented partnership between a liberal arts institution and a major research university (and his moral support).

OpenWorks, for being so accommodating and allowing us to use their open work space for our activities on Friday (see agenda below).

Greenville Health System, especially to Robin, for joining us to discuss what you should never do in an interview — and making it funny.

Clemson MBA at ONE, for giving us access to their swanky new space on Main Street.

Also a special shout out to Envision SC, the Spiro Institute, Ten at the Top, SCBio and all of our additional facilitators and guests of honor.

Fellows Southeastern Regional Meetup Collaborators and Sponsors

Fellows Southeastern Regional Meetup Collaborators and Sponsors

Fellows Southeastern Regional Meetup Agenda

Fellows Southeastern Regional Meetup Agenda

Fellows Speak at White House

On September 24, 2014, two University Innovation Fellows went to the White House to address 60 leaders from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) who attended a half-day Maker Workshop. Two Fellows, Jaime Aribas Starkey-El of Morgan State and Ulysses Knight of Virginia State. Jaime spoke on a panel (see video) about his efforts to bring a maker space to Morgan. He also happens to be on the team of Fellows driving the Student IP Rights project (independent of Epicenter, Stanford or VentureWell) and was able to garner support and visibility for their efforts.


This is one in a series of followup events the White House is holding to leverage its first ever Maker Faire held this past summer. As part of that event, Tim McNulty, Vice President of Government Relations at Carnegie Mellon, gathered 150 signatures from University Presidents to commit to the development of Maker Spaces. HBCUs were largely absent from that list. That’s not OK. It is imperative that HBCUs are at the forefront helping lead the movement that has the potential to democratizing innovation, entrepreneurship and opportunity. The workshop was designed to make that case and introduce resources in support of the effort.


IMG_3029The day was designed to shed light on the power of the Maker Movement to educate. The Founder of Make Magazine and the increasingly popular events called ‘Maker Faire’, was an inspiring keynote speaker following Tom Khalil’s opening remarks. Our colleagues from the United College Negro Fund and the American Public Land-grant Universities discussed their efforts to expand Innovation & Entrepreneurship offerings at HBCUs. All three referred to their partnership with Epicenter, through the Fellows program. Tim McNulty expressed an interest in developing a community amongst the 150 signatories, much in the way Fellows have used community to acheive its change strategies on campus. Our colleague Craig Forest of Georgia Tech highlighted the success of the Invention Studio, an entirely free student-run maker space available to all majors for class projects or pet projects. Students have access to an array of equipment and also teach one another classes to acquire new skills. [youtube]


University Innovation Fellows was up at bat again in the last half, with yours truly speaking on the a panel alongside TechShop, Maker Faire/Make Magazine and NSF’s HBCU-UP Program, as resources to help HBCUs get started. The audience was very receptive to the our message of using students to get traction on space and, more importantly, what goes on in the space. Design thinking workshops, lean startup events, challenges and other learning opportunities are the kinds of things that make the difference between a cool room and a vibrant student community. This strategy, along with the students completing the landscape canvas and networking campus stakeholder efforts together, has aided the university administration’s efforts to expand I&E on campus. Fellows created 22 innovation spaces last year alone, three that attracted additional funded by the institution in the millions of dollars as they demonstrated strong student engagement. A number of school committed to bringing on the University Innovation Fellows program that day. There were many highlights to the day, but my personal favorite was meeting Megan Smith, former executive with GoogleX and new Chief Technology Officer of the United States of America (pictured below). With her at the helm as CTO, we may just see some amazing ‘moonshot’ approaches to embedding the maker movement into all schools throughout the U.S.

~Humera Fasihuddin, University Innovation Fellows



Higher Education Maker Summit @ ASU, October 23-24

The University Innovation Fellows are excited to take part in the upcoming Higher Education Maker Summit. The event is the inaugural convening of 150 higher education institutions that recently committed to creating maker spaces, as part of the first-ever White House Maker Faire. Once realized, these maker spaces will provide thousands of people  access to the tools and skills that 21st century makers, creators, inventors and innovators need to be successful.

Fellows attending the event will speak to student-led strategies they’ve employed to create innovation spaces quickly and cheaply to begin innovation activities on campus. Often times this programming and community building has attracted the much-needed investment campuses need from alumni and state sources. Investment in student engagement strategies has had a profound affect in creating vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems. Attend this important Summit to learn more about strategies that University Innovation Fellows are employing to bring about these lasting ecosystem enhancements.

Read about our Berkeley University Innovation Fellows success in developing innovation spaces on this earlier blog post.

For more about the summit visit

– Humera Fasihuddin

Fellows Make Statements of Commitment at National Academy of Engineering, Washington D.C.

Ten University Innovation Fellows flew to DC this week and made a statement of commitment to organize students on their campus to address the Grand Challenges. These statements were delivered at a workshop entitled ‘Educating Engineers to Meet the Grand Challenges’ held at the National Academy of Engineering in Washington D.C. on May 1, 2014 (apologies for the grainy video).



The meeting was designed to identify best practices for preparing students to address the Grand Challenges. The meeting included a keynote address by Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation White House Office of Science & Technology Policy as well as panel discussion and breakout sessions with Academic, Program, Industry and Student Leaders. The intended result was a consortium of engineering schools committed to sharing practices for providing their students/members with an engineering education that includes elements such as learning through service, global perspectives, practical applications, entrepreneurship, and aspects of policy and human behavior.

Convening organizations:

National Academy of Engineering

Engineers Without Borders USA

Epicenter’s University Innovation Fellows Program and


For more information about this event, visit


White House Hosts STUDENT STARTUPS Hangout with #UIFellows Own Jared Karp & Shark Tank Hosts

November 23, 2013 – The video recording of the Student Startup Google Hangout is now available. Due to technical difficulties, they are in two parts. Watch the first video until just after 7:30, then switch to the second one to view the remainder of the session:



Here’s our favorite excerpt…


Q: Doug Rand, The White House: What kinds of projects do Jared’s friends get to work on in the innovation space and how can other universities get such an innovation space?

A: Jared Karp, University Innovation Fellows @  UC Berkeley: there are a ton of projects people work on. It is a free space for students to bring their own ideas and projects to the table, to recruit help from other talented individuals. For example sometimes students work on industry-sponsored projects or they design for a cause. One of my friends recently designed a water pump for farmers in India to replace high-cost diesel-powered water pumps, using capillary physics to generate water from a well and bring it up to the source. Other students work on fun projects such as video games like Campus Cart, which is a live mapping of your college campus and you use an RC car to drive around the levels that are made by your own environment. I actually made this (holding up device) … this is a mini MPC, which is a music production tool which fits onto the back of most cellular phones and you can export the files to your favorite music production software and make beats on the go. For those who are interested in connecting with BetaVersity (company that installs maker spaces at college campuses) or bring an innovation space on campus you can check out the website or as a student there are many ways to bring an innovation space to your campus without necessarily having to go through an external party (see wiki page:


November 22, 2013 – Today the White House hosted a #wethegeeks Google Hangout with our very own Jared Karp and Engineering Undergraduate student at University of California Berkeley. According to the White House blog, the live streamed online conversation will celebrate “the extraordinary stories of young entrepreneurs—students who, along with all the usual demands of pursuing a high school, college, or a graduate degree, are building companies today that are spreading homegrown ideas all over the world.”

Join us at 2pm ET here.

The blog goes on to say, “Two proven entrepreneurs featured on the popular TV show Shark Tank will join these student innovators to share lessons from their own entrepreneurial journeys”. Barbara Cochoran and Daymond John, two of the six sharks on the show, will be joined by Jared, three other college students and members of NIFTY, a program that inspires young people in low-income communities to stay in school, recognize business opportunities and plan for successful futures.

More about Barbara Cochoran and Daymond John…

Tweet questions using the hashtag #WeTheGeeks. See you at 2pm ET.

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Senior Program Officer, University Innovation Fellows