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

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


University Innovation Fellows Program Partners with Google on India Initiative

By the UIF program team (Leticia, Humera, Katie and Laurie)

We are thrilled to share that the University Innovation Fellows program is partnering with Google on a new international initiative. Google India has committed to training 2 million mobile developers in India to meet the increasing pace of global technological innovation. At the Google University Summit in India, the University Innovation Fellows program was launched as one of the higher education efforts of this initiative.

The pace of technological innovation has been advancing at a historically unprecedented rate. In order for an economy to take advantage of this great potential, it needs to cultivate its citizens’ intellectual, technical and professional capacities. To support this substantial and game-changing economic impact, we must also cultivate and nurture the creative, innovative and entrepreneurial mindset of this emerging workforce.

To complement Google’s developer training initiative, our program’s goal as part of this initiative is to empower students in these countries as higher education change agents and equip them with the knowledge, skills and mindsets that will help them succeed in the workforce after graduation. Fellows in India will be tasked with creating educational opportunities to help their peers learn to be entrepreneurial, creative and innovative in addition to upskilling technical mobile development skills.

“Since we started this program in the U.S. in 2012, our campus partners have experienced significant benefits in collaborating with students to create lasting institutional change,” said Humera Fasihuddin, co-director of the University Innovation Fellows program. “We believe our partnership with Google will help us seed a similar innovation revolution in India.”

“By some estimates, India will overtake the United States in 2018 and become the largest developer population globally. But currently less than 25% of these developers are building for mobile, even though 65% of current internet users, and a majority of future internet users in India and other emerging markets around the world will access the internet only on their mobile phone,” said William Florance, Head of University Programs for Developer Training. “In addition to our faculty training efforts and recently announced Google Developers Codelabs, we are thrilled to help bring the University Innovation Fellows program to India. It is our belief the combination of these efforts can help prepare future mobile developers to become more creative and entrepreneurial in solving problems both locally and around the world.”

In early September, we accepted our first Indian cohort of 22 students from 10 schools. The UIF program team then visited India to better understand the challenges and opportunities in the higher education system there. We met with UIF candidates, their faculty sponsors, students and faculty at four school site visits. We were blown away by their passion and enthusiasm for this opportunity, and we’re excited to continue to collaborate with them. We accepted the second Indian cohort of 55 students from 14 schools in February 2017. This year, our India Fellows will visit the U.S. to attend the Silicon Valley Meetup, the program’s signature in-person event. We will continue to accept students from India with support from Google in our future application cycles.

In the next two years, we hope to reach more than 50 schools in India with the program. We are exploring new means of engagement including two upcoming events in Bangalore: a Regional Meetup for Fellows and their peers, and a Teaching and Learning Studio workshop for faculty and teaching staff.

“Cross-pollination and collaboration among students from different schools is at the core of our program’s success,” said UIF program co-director Leticia Britos Cavagnaro. “Thus, this initiative in partnership with Google will not only be a transformative opportunity for schools and students in India, but also for the schools and Fellows already participating in the program in the United States and beyond. It will be an unparalleled learning journey for all, and we are truly looking forward to making the most out of it.”