Meetup Reflections: Creating Change Together


350 University Innovation Fellows and faculty traveled to the Bay Area for the 2019 Silicon Valley Meetup. Check out the materials and other resources from the Meetup.

Nearly 350 University Innovation Fellows and faculty traveled to the Bay Area for the 2019 Silicon Valley Meetup, March 21-25, to learn new ways to create change in higher education. Our UIF team was thrilled to host so many amazing changemakers at Stanford University and Google for four learning-packed days.

This is the seventh (!) Silicon Valley Meetup we’ve held, and we wanted to try something different for this year’s event blog post. The Meetup wouldn’t be possible without 24 Fellows who served as Fabs (short for “fabulous”). These Fabs were bus team leaders, facilitators, mentors, speakers, event organizers and friends. We asked the Fabs for their reflections on different parts of the Meetup to provide an insider’s look at the action, adventure and learning.

Day 1: The first moments of the Meetup

By Carolina Vassallucci, University of Montevideo

The magic began when the Fellows registered in one of the rooms of the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Thursday afternoon. There were six tables decorated according to different teams that represented superheroes: Avengers, X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, The Justice League and Fantastic Four. Each team was represented by four Fabs and had its table decorated according to their superhero team.

When the Fellows entered the room, all the Fabs shouted the name of their group and danced uncontrollably. What was the goal? To spread the energy from the very beginning, while doing simultaneous activities: checking who arrived, and giving them custom name badges, notebooks and UIF stickers. Fabs answered questions regarding dress code and agenda, and fielded comments about the excitement and anxiety for the days that were approaching.

Day 2: Google and a culture of innovation

By Jessica Aldrich, Wichita State University

Standing on the roof of Google helping set up one of the iconic Silicon Valley Meetup photos, I observed the formation of a community of individuals who had only met a few hours prior.

Fellows attending the Meetup spent their first full day at Google where they heard from Frederik Pferdt, the Chief Innovation Evangelist at Google, and were empowered to believe that they were ready to change the world. They were inspired by Daniel Holle from Loon, Ciela Hartanov from The Google School for Leaders, and Reena Jana, Head of Product & Business Inclusion Strategy at Google. They learned to build psychological safety within their teams and this community. After reflecting on the day with the Wichita State University Fellows, they shared with me some profound insights and takeaways:

“Become a leader when necessary, but not always. Be your own person, but work with your team too.”

“As soon as you shift your perspective, you change what you see.”

“Have courage to step into the unknown.”

This cohort of Fellows transformed from unsure about the day ahead (they were greeted with high fives at 8 am) to feeling like a deep community that embraced everyone when the buses rolled off Google campus at the end of the day. They had learned insights from industry leaders, experienced their first round of Fab ignites (short talks about their passions, challenges and activities as Fellows), and developed deep friendships that continued to grow over the rest of the week.

Day 3: Reimagining learning at Stanford

By Sienna George, Boise State University

On Saturday, Fellows experienced what it mean to “reimagine learning” through a day of experiential activities and a culminating unconference. They learned to test their own boundaries of what it means to learn and the potential they have to contribute to the learning landscapes at their own colleges and universities.

Throughout the day, Fellows embraced dance with Aleta Hayes from Stanford as a means by which to cultivate empathy for self-and-other and got inspired to challenge their own comfort zones. They engaged with the concept of space as a catalyst for connection and creativity using the d.school book Make Space as a guide for creating collaborative spaces. They learned public speaking and how to present themselves with confidence from Dan Klein of Stanford. They got “stoked” as they practiced how to reinvigorate mindsets and learned to energize others, and ultimately, embraced their own “true colors,” as they understood their leadership attributes and values, and how to collaborate with others during the “Six Thinking Hats” activity. The day’s culminating unconference presented students with the opportunity to couple their knowledge with an experience to share their own wisdom, demonstrating what it means to truly reimagine learning by contributing their brightest ideas for the future landscape of higher education.

As a Fab, my greatest take-away from the day was watching students transform their mindset from one of “I can’t do that,” or “that’s not for me,” into a mindset of “anything is possible,” and “that’s mine to make the most of,” embodying the spirit of true student agency.

Day 4: Designing for the future

By Sam Warach, University of New Hampshire

Sunday featured several inspirational speakers: Lisa Kay Solomon, designer in residence at the d.school; Alberto Savoia, Co-Founder of Agitar Software and former Google Innovation Agitator, who covered topics such as his concept of “Pretotyping”; Holley Murchison, founder of Oratory Glory, who talked about the importance of your personal brand and story; and Eric Edward Schell of Pride Portraits.

In the morning there were a series of panels featuring Fellows who had graduated and were in the workforce. During this, I had the opportunity to share my journey of growing my own startup NextStep HealthTech, and the launch of our mobile health software product, Hey NextStep. After the panel sessions, Fellows regrouped with members from their home universities to design system changes they would plan to implement upon their return. Students in my workshop group from India decided they were going to create a design club at their home university to cultivate positive change in their community.

In the afternoon, I personally had the honor to deliver a talk called “Take the NextStep: Harness the Power of Tenacity” to the attendees to share my experience as a Fellow working to create impact both in my Alma Mater community at the University of New Hampshire, and in the Behavioral Healthcare Industry after graduation with NextStep HealthTech.

I feel confident to say we will see the emerging leaders who have gone through the University Innovation Fellows program implement solutions to pressing problems, and change the world for the better.

Marvelous Monday adventures

By Vanessa Ganaden, California State University, Fullerton

On Monday morning, participants were given the opportunity to select one of six destinations: Stanford innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) programs; the Garage at Microsoft Silicon Valley; Sustainable U (Stanford Sustainable Food Program); K-12 education at the Nueva School Innovation Lab; startup culture at Handshake headquarters; and a reflection at the Golden Gate Bridge.

I was a facilitator for the Stanford I&E program adventure. It was a fascinating look into how Stanford promotes I&E in the programs that they offer within the campus. For the first part, we explored how the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP) promotes entrepreneurship within Stanford’s School of Engineering. Then we took a look into how extreme and innovative thinking is being used to create social impact in the world’s poorest countries with the d.school’s “Design for Extreme Affordability” class. After those two programs, we participated in a workshop entitled “Designing with Machine Learning” with a goal to democratize machine learning through the use of design systems to create human-centric solutions.

When we say “innovation and entrepreneurship,” it can be hard to connect with, not because we don’t understand the importance of the topics, but rather it can be challenging to connect them  with our real world. Today’s activity showed me and the other Fellows that innovation and entrepreneurship are applied very deeply to the things that we care about, from social issues to new technologies such as machine learning. It also demonstrated that Design Thinking is a universal methodology that can transcend disciplines, technology and cultures to solve problems that change the world.

Lifelong connections

By Trevor Clevenger, Colorado School of Mines

There were hundreds of college students from around the world here for the Meetup. It was so inspiring to see people from such different backgrounds collaborating on how to make their campuses a better place. A lot of the students were noticeably shy at first, but you could tell that everyone opened up substantially as the weekend went on. By the end of the Meetup, real connections were being made that these students can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

What it means to be a Fab

By Jonathan Puhl, University of North Dakota

During our time as Fabs for this year’s Silicon Valley Meetup, we came to understand the true meaning of community. We helped orchestrate, implement, and keep the Meetup running, while helping any faculty or students with their needs. Our role seems to be a combination of facilitator and organizer mixed together.

While doing all the tasks associated with these descriptions, we also give ignite talks to the 350 attendees. Some topics included our questioning whether we are “just” students, overcoming incredible odds, and difficult happenings in our lives. We hope that these talks inspired the attendees do even more incredible things.

One thought we came away with this year wasn’t just that we got to be Fabs at the Meetup, but that through our involvement, we got to help others achieve their goals, simply by being able to tell our story, have a chat, or give them ideas to implement on their campus. This “role” is an amazing experience to bring our UIF skills to a different level and implement our learning through the UIF program and our lives, into a community focused purpose to help others do even greater things.

Life lessons

By Omri Gal, Swarthmore College

I learned how important it is to share your story. You never know who it will affect, and how. By sharing, you are able to connect with others and form deep and meaningful relationships. Working with the other FABs was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I have never worked with such an incredible group of people, and it taught me how important it is to surround yourself with empathetic, and caring people.

UIFamily forever!

By Daniel Kleinman, University of Florida, Leidos

Between my parents’ divorce when I was 13 and my dad and grandmother passing away when I was 23, the feeling of being a part of a family unit has not been much of a constant in my life. Feeling like I actually belonged to something (more than just being involved) created this raw, deep sense of connection that was something that I rarely, if ever, had felt in my life.

Being a Fab and part of this UIFamily was not just about feeling the love and support that comes with being surrounded by such amazing people, but truly how humbling it is to know that everyone is there for you on a deeper level, without a shred of doubt. There is certainly a practice of what we preach with empathy, passion, and inspiration for one another. There’s an unspoken confidence in the quality and commitment to these connections that makes them much more than friendships – and that’s when I knew I had found my UIFamily… and now they can’t get rid of me if they tried!

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 d.school 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 d.school 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 d.school. 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 d.school 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 d.school 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.

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 d.school, 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 d.school 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 d.school 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 d.school 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 d.school 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 d.school 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 d.school 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 universityinnovationfellows.org/materials-march2017-silicon-valley-meetup