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.


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