$31mm OculusVR Founders’ Gift to UMD Linked to Fellows


Also in this post: Fellows Attend Mid-Atlantic Meetup To Learn and Discuss Strategies To Expand I&E

During the course of last month’s training, we learned there was an even stronger tie-in than we thought between our University Innovation Fellows at the University of Maryland (UMD) and the $31mm gift to the University by Brendan Iribe (along with his co-founder and mother), after the company’s sale to Facebook. Apparently, what was going to be about $1mm scholarship gift, turned into the largest gift ever in UMD history due in part to a combination of Fellows-related factors. The following video is an excerpt of the training session where we learned the news, featuring Dean Chang, the Associate Vice President of Innovation & Entrepreneurship who sets the record straight with Fellow Mackenzie Burnett about just how instrumental a role the Fellows played in securing the deal (click on the video below to view):

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=js_eMoGeALA&w=560&h=315]

The video Chang references is a project pitch video, required of all  Fellows during training, that was created by Meenu Singh and Atin Mittra in spring 2014 . Candidates who state their bold vision are much more likely to be successful when they are launched as Fellows on their campus. But, what Singh and Mittra didn’t expect was that the video would be shown to 350 Engineering Deans by Epicenter Director and Professor at Stanford, Tom Byers, at last year’s Engineering Deans Institute (EDI Conference). In the video, the students highlight one of the largest hackathons in the country, Bitcamp, (co-led by Burnett, a recent Fall 2014 Fellow) and raise the provocative question, “Why should all these cool projects happen outside of the classroom?” It’s a question Fellows ask all their institutions and work to address with extra-curricular activities and collaboration with faculty/administration on curricular change. Bitcamp was a perfect example of how a group of UMD students co-led by a Fellow successfully worked with the President, the Provost, the Deans of Computer, Math and Natural Sciences and Engineering, and other key organizations to create an amazing real world, team-based, experiential innovation opportunity for students. In fact, the Oculus co-founders cited the student leadership and the student outcomes of Bitcamp as one of the significant reasons behind their desire to turn what was initially a much smaller scholarship gift into a $31mm donation towards a new Center for Computer Science and Innovation (click on the videos below to view):

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TI1TZeWU16E]

What kinds of cool projects could be linked to classroom learning? Here’s an inside look at the types of creative ideas students get to explore at Bitcamp:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGkALQPU8ds&w=560&h=315]

This isn’t the first time Fellows have helped land a major fit that is strategic to campus Innovation & Entrepreneurship efforts. Last year, Jared Karp and Adam Eastman were instrumental in securing $20mm from Paul Jacobs, the CEO & Chairman of Qualcomm and there have been many other wins between $25,000 and $3mm for maker spaces, courses, workshops, TEDx events and other student-led interventions.

Student Influence, IMHO (aka In My Humble Opinion)

Note that students took partial credit for their role in the gift, but the faculty perspective revealed the real difference it made. Chang refers to the Bitcamp founder as being ‘overly modest’. It strikes me that Fellows may not realize the ripple affect they’re having on their campus. What are the ways that students can be more attuned to these influences and leverage them accordingly? Humility is a wonderful thing, but for students trying to intentionally affect positive change on campus, how might we help them understand the cause and affect relationship to achieve even greater impact?

This student influence is vital because universities, despite the best intentions and efforts, are unable to change on their own. The book College Unbound keeps me up at night. Higher education is still the single biggest equalizer. It is the best chance we have to ensure that a broken K-12 system can be compensated for by the opportunity a degree might afford everyone. BUT, the business of higher education is a bit of a mess right now, and exposing students to innovation & entrepreneurship falls somewhere on the lower half of the top priority list at most institutions. In my mind, it is the key to their success.

Great I&E programs instantly turn on student engagement, and students, when engaged, can help the administration tackle just about any problem or opportunity at hand. If student retention is an issue, put students on the task. Do you need more diversity in programs? Assemble a team of students to develop strategies. Are there not enough women majoring in engineering? Get the students working on the message and programming needed to resonate with women. This is Business 101. If you want your product to succeed, co-design it with your customer. Students have the key to higher education’s problems. Many faculty and administrators have a hard time with this. They feel they are paid to be all-knowing. The beauty, however, is that faculty and administration who ‘let go’ and empower students, experience success and are then seen as the heroes. They are celebrated for leveraging the work and passion of the students. Take Dean Chang, for example. Ultimately, Dean benefits from the role his team (including students) played in securing the $31mm gift which is why he’s doubling down and sponsoring another three for a total of six Fellows.

But Students Come and Go

It doesn’t matter that a student’s impact is only felt for 4 years when they can give faculty and administration the impact to achieve change in ways that current academic structures cannot. The Fellows program works because it exposes regular, but passionate students, to a systems thinking approach to change within higher education. Candidates are taken through a process during training whereby they are exposed to all the assets that exist in support of their mission, organizing those assets by the function they serve and the connectedness between stakeholders within the system. They begin to connect the dots between highly-functional activity and not-so-functional activity. They learn from peers across the nation who are in their video-conference training sessions (like the one above) and discover models that might work for their unique campus assets and strengths, as they develop their own plans to expand innovation and entrepreneurship on campus. They are required to jump many hoops during an intense six-week period. Not everyone makes it. Not everyone wants to make the world a better place and is willing to sacrifice the time and effort to get there. The ones that do approach their mission with seriousness and recognize that while many see I&E training as important, these students view it as the one thing that will save our nation. If every student going through higher education is exposed to training that will make them more creative and resilient; if every student cultivated their inherent leadership qualities; if every student honed their entrepreneurial mindset, we would be a different nation. Our youngest, brightest and most optimistic would enter the workforce adaptable and able. They would have a mindset of producing rather than consuming. They would be creators of opportunity and solvers of some of the biggest challenges of our time.

Nov 1-2: UMD Fellows Host Mid-Atlantic Regional Meetup

After such an amazing announcement, what better time than now, for Fellows from across the nation to descend on the University of Maryland to discuss and develop creative strategies for expanding innovation and entrepreneurship. Under Dean Chang’s leadership, UMD has put students (and a couple of freshly minted grads) in the driver’s seat of expanding student engagement in I&E under The Academy. The results have been profound with student-led gateway courses, pop-up workshops, innovation spaces and more. Now, UMD Fellows are gathering their ‘intel’ on creative strategies for engaging students across campus and hosting the first-ever Mid-Atlantic Meetup. Peers from across the nation will gather in Washington D.C. and at the UMD campus to participate in interactive sessions designed to stimulate creative thinking about new models to implement on their own campuses. The theme of the meetup is ‘Creative Collisions’, refering to the exciting ways UMD students are infusing traditional I&E tools and methods into a variety of facets of student life. The event is by invitation-only for University Innovation Fellows, their faculty sponsors and invited guests. For more information, contact Katie Dzugan.

Mid-Atlantic Regional Meetup

Students will also be able to meet the students and faculty pivotal to the Iribe win. For more information about the gift, read the Washington Post announcement. The University also posted a video announcement featuring Iribe, included below.

We’re extremely excited for a whole slew of new project pitch videos that have just hit the street this month, launching 58 new Fellows on campuses throughout the U.S. Let’s see what the next several months will hold.

~Humera Fasihuddin, Leader, University Innovation Fellows
On Twitter: @ihumera



[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZd7vO2UIBk]

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

For Immediate Release
October 2, 2014

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

Palo Alto, CA – Fifty-eight students from 26 higher education institutions across the United States have been named University Innovation Fellows by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter).

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

This new cohort of Fellows brings the total number to 168 Fellows from 85 schools. The program is run by Epicenter, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University and VentureWell (formerly NCIIA).

“It is so critical for students to have an entrepreneurial mindset in today’s economy. They need more than just technical skills to solve the big problems our world is facing,” said Humera Fasihuddin, leader of the University Innovation Fellows program for Epicenter.

“This mindset helps students learn to be flexible, resilient, creative, empathetic. They learn how to identify and frame problems rather than simply solving what’s put in front of them. With these skills, students will be able to leave school better prepared to tackle challenges and create new and fulfilling jobs for themselves and others.”
Individual Fellows as well as teams of Fellows are sponsored by faculty and administrators at their schools and selected through an application process twice annually. Following acceptance into the program, students complete six weeks of online training, where they connect with their new network, examine their current entrepreneurial ecosystems and formulate action plans to implement their ideas. Throughout the year, they take part in events and conferences across the country and have opportunities to learn from one another, Epicenter mentors, and leaders in academia and industry.

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

“Fellows are having a powerful impact at their schools,” Fasihuddin said. “They are working alongside students, faculty and their university leaders to help all students learn an entrepreneurial mindset, dream big and pursue their career aspirations.”

Learn more about the University Innovation Fellows at http://epicenter.stanford.edu/university-innovation-fellows and http://www.dreamdesigndeliver.org.

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

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


Innovation and Determination

University Innovation Fellow Atin Mittra led a service learning trip to the Dominican Republic’s Barrio Blanco and learned a lesson about determination in the process.

by Atin Mittra
University Innovation Fellow, University of Maryland College Park

Atin Mittra (left) with members of his design team during their spring trip to Barrio Blanco in the Dominican Republic.

As I embarked to lead an Alternative Spring Break trip to the Dominican Republic, I had no idea the next week would be a life changing experience.

The community we worked in was called Barrio Blanco, named after the man who started the community, Blanco. Blanco is around sixty years old, but his passion for maintaining the barrio makes him move like he’s twenty-five. A small neighborhood hidden away in the bustling tourist attraction of Cabarete, Barrio Blanco represents the determination of community organizers to withstand gentrification. The wealth and abundance that kissed the beachside resorts didn’t make it to the barrio. In fact, half a mile from the five star restaurants, people were walking on unpaved streets covered in trash.

The three service projects our group focused on were teaching children at the DREAM school, painting a mural on the entrance of the neighborhood, and making mobile garbage cans. The mobile trash can project was primed for the design thinking process.

The Problem: The entrance to the community was a quarter mile long with two cinderblock walls on either side. The opening was only wide enough for one large truck. The side streets were far too narrow for the truck to make its way around so the residents could either carry their garbage to the truck or throw it out in front of their house. By and large people chose the latter. As a result, trash lay undisturbed, free to enjoy the Dominican sun. Unfortunately, trash leaked into the nearby lagoon behind the houses, contaminating the water and causing health concerns for the residents. Upon learning about design thinking from the Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UMD, my co-trip leader and I quickly introduced the methodology into our facilitation identifying potential benefits of using it in a social context. I had hoped to give my twelve participants tools such as design thinking that would allow them to more easily tackle large-scale problems after the trip, a process known as activation.

The Task: Design and build eight mobile trash cans which can be pulled on unpaved, uneven streets and be light enough for children to pull.


Young-Ju and Atin measuring wheel placements

The Process: First, we observed. I jotted some preliminary ideas for the frame and wheel placement after our work was finished each day. I pulled two participants who displayed interest in the design process to help, Taylor and Young-Ju. It was imperative for both of them to share their opinion during the prototype and test phase. At first, both were hesitant to give their input. After relentlessly insisting they share their ideas, Young-Ju exclaimed, “I don’t know, I’m not an engineer like you, you know what you’re doing.” I was both shocked and relieved. Shocked because it felt like I was finally breaking through timid Young-Ju’s shell and relieved because this was something that I could tell was on both of their minds. “What does engineering have anything to do with this, we just need to solve a problem,” I explained turning the focus on the task at hand.

From that point on, they both opened up throughout the design process.


Team members attach a frame to a trash can

After numerous trips to the hardware store and shipping parts in fromPuerto Rico, we were finally ready to build all eight trash cans on our last day of service. It started at noon. To start building we created a six-person team. The inconsistent electricity made it difficult to make progress and it seemed like everything was standing between us and our goal. Through sheer determination we pushed forward. As people in the community saw us working, they began coming out of their houses to offer help. A group of men who ran a hardware business nearby stopped working in order to make sure we were adequately equipped to finish the project. Timid Young-Ju who had once held her tongue when asked her opinion now had no problem barking orders at other participants to ensure they were building the frames correctly. Wiping sweat away from my sleep deprived eyes, for a minute I observed at what was happening around me. There were at least a dozen people helping in some capacity now in an assembly line type fashion. My original design team acted as quality assurance. We even brought in someone else from the community to weld handles onto the sides of the can.

The schedule said to end work at 4:30 and head to a nice dinner on the beach, but we couldn’t leave until the job was finished. We finished the last can at 7:00pm as the sun forfeited its position above. Even though we were all battling heat exhaustion, sickness, and sleep deprivation, all ailments were buried the moment we finished. Accomplishment and satisfaction coagulated with the cool Dominican air. It felt like we just won the Super Bowl, everyone was in visible ecstasy. The community leaders invited us back the next day to give a proper thank you/goodbye.


Seven of the completed trash cans

The next evening we entered the barrio making the long walk to the school one last time. As soon as we began walking down the entrance, we heard the pitter patter of running children and in the distance tiny voices yelling “they’re here! they’re here!” in Spanish followed quickly by the muffled thuds of them running into and embracing us with their small arms. They guided us to the school where leaders of the community and kids alike prepared speeches for us. They praised us for the work we did but most of all for caring about the barrio. Everywhere I turned all I heard was “nunca te olvidare” (I will never forget you). I was blown away that people we had no idea existed just five days prior were now telling us we changed their lives. I couldn’t describe the way it felt when I heard the work I did impacted someone’s life. It was the greatest high I’ve ever felt. I ducked out of the party early to look at the trash cans one last time before we left.

As I headed back to our work site, I saw Blanco sitting there alone as if he knew I was coming. I looked up from Blanco’s silhouette to see all the garbage cans were gone. “Where are the garbage cans, Blanco?” I asked. In a calm voice he told me if I wanted to see them again, I’d have to walk around the whole community because they had already been put to use. I was speechless. Not even twenty-four hours after we finished the project, they were already serving their purpose. It was incredible to think through engineering and design thinking we were able to build something that would help this group of people we grew to love.


The final assembly team poses after finishing all eight trash cans

At times engineering can be nebulous and my mind would lay burdened by theory and formulas in class, but I wouldn’t have been able to help the residents of Barrio Blanco if not for those classes. It was amazing to be able to apply things from class to the real world and make a difference. It was also rewarding to be able to demystify engineering and design to non-STEM majorswho found instant utility from its principles. I will never forget how happy the residents of Barrio Blanco were. Our closeness to the community greatly aided the human centered piece of our design process. Not only did we want what we built to be used, but we cared so deeply about our friends in the barrio, that nothing but the best was acceptable. If you’re passionate enough about a project and you remain resolutely determined on achieving the goal, nothing can stop you.

Atin Mittra Atin Mittra is a student at the University of Maryland, College Park majoring in Aerospace Engineering with a minor in Technology Entrepreneurship, graduating in 2014. he is passionate about social entrepreneurship and understanding social trends. Atin is also the Founder and Executive Director of MADE Microfinance, a non-profit that aims to build financial literacy and assets for people who are rejected by the traditional banking industry.