Igniting Changemakers at Ashoka U Exchange 2019

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

Below are the Fellows’ reflections on the experience:

All of us are designers

By Omri Gal, Swarthmore College

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

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

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

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

I am a Changemaker

By Winter Wilson, Ohio University

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

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

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

Visibility and Social Enterprise

By Amita Shukla, Columbia University

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

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

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

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

Finding Hope

By Mahmoud Khedr, City College of New York

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

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

Including Everyone

By Gabriela Gonjon, City College of New York

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

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

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

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

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!

Just Published: Book About UIF

Our team is thrilled to announce that a book about the UIF program has been published! The book, Designing for Change: Using social learning to understand organizational transformation, was written by renowned social scientists Beverly and Etienne Wenger-Trayner. The book is a case study of the UIF program and brings to life decades of the authors’ research in social learning theory.

As we learned, books take a long time from inspiration to publication. We began this project in 2015, while we were still operating under the NSF-funded National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter). We engaged Beverly and Etienne to write a white paper that would apply their social learning theories to our program in order for us to better understand its impact on the individuals in our community as well as their schools and organizations.

During the process of their interviews with our Fellows, faculty champions, team and community members, Beverly and Etienne became convinced that a simple white paper wouldn’t do the story justice. In the book’s introduction, they write, “As we proceeded to look at existing data and interview people, the stories we were hearing and the picture that was emerging were so rich and inspiring that the format of a short white paper seemed too constraining. Our readers would miss too much. The potential audience was broader. We all agreed that it was going to be a short book.”

Today, this book is a rich portrayal of our program — with its strengths as well as areas for improvement — seen through the lens of the authors’ social learning framework of value creation. Their rigorous analysis weaves in quantitative data obtained by our NSF-mandated external evaluator, and is augmented with stories from Fellows, and photos of all the remarkable people that make up the UIF family. We are excited to see these insights shared in such a compelling way, and we hope they will inspire other programs to incorporate social learning strategies in their change work.

The book is available on Amazon: http://bit.ly/uif-book.

Happy Reading!

The UIF team

Colorful Creations at Michigan Tech

Fellows from around the U.S. took part in Michigan Tech’s Regional Meetup in October 2018.

The Michigan Tech “Colorful Creations” Regional Meetup set out to combine the dramatic landscape of fall foliage with two days immersed in the community innovation culture. The Tech Fellows and faculty hosted 20 participants from seven schools for the Meetup, held October 19-20, 2018.

The group certainly got the culture immersion. The Fall colors, not as much. Michigan Tech is commonly known as the snowiest college in the United States, and the school lived up to that title over the event weekend. Fortunately, the Michigan Tech UIF team has learned the value of adaptability through hosting many events, and the group did get to see some Fall leaves before it snowed.

“From something as minimal as an activity taking longer than expected to something as large as getting a blizzard on Saturday morning, we learned that, while we had a plan in place, it was and never will be ‘finalized’,” said Magann Dykema, a Fellow and one of the event organizers.

During the event, participants took part in Tech’s Innovation Week, visited The Alley Makerspace (created by Fellows and faculty), learned about the activities of the six generations of Tech Fellows, and applied design thinking to a real world challenge — figuring out ways to help Michigan Tech’s community on the Keweenaw Peninsula recover from severe flooding.

“We wanted to not only showcase the work that we have done here, but also the community we live in,” said Magann. “We felt that it was important to share with everyone how the flooding impacted the community. Additionally, we brought in some of our key supporters at Michigan Tech to help with the event so that we could show them how grateful we are for their support.”

Attendees had many opportunities to connect with one another in addition to learning new skills and mindsets.

“It was such a great experience to interact with more of the UIF community,” said Rachel Kolb, a Fellow at Michigan Tech and one of the event organizers. “Everyone was so willing to jump in and participate, all the while bringing tons of enthusiasm to the table no matter what we were doing! My favorite moment of the Meetup was coming together to create crafts using rocks we found on the shores of Lake Superior. While creating some abstract art, we reflected as a group on we have done as Fellows, shared our passions, and even some of our struggles.”

Check out the event video:

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 d.school 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 d.school. 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 d.school’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 d.school, 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


Surviving a Makeathon: Lessons from Tennessee Tech

Jacqueline Schulz, a University Innovation Fellow from Tennessee Tech University, shares her team’s tips and lessons learned from hosting their survival-themed makeathon this fall.


by Jacqueline Schulz

Recipe for Successful Makeathon:

  1. Various random objects and fabrication supplies
  2. A cool theme
  3. Free food, and lots of it

Sounds pretty easy, right? Well, not quite, but don’t get me wrong, the first Tennessee Tech University Makeathon was a HUGE success! Between 50 and 80 people showed up to hang out and create some really cool survival solutions out of materials like scrap wood, plastic table cloths, springs, wire, and a whole lot of creativity. We began with an open-ended scenario, “Create a solution to help you survive or get off a deserted island with the supplies provided,” in order to be inclusive of a variety of majors and encourage participants to have fun and be a little silly. The main goal we set out to accomplish with this event: show students from across a variety of disciplines that creativity, making, and prototyping is fun, and it’s for everyone! We chose to pursue this in the context of a makeathon, because it was a new and fresh idea at Tennessee Tech and it allowed the participants to be really creative and get involved. This post is a compilation of some of our biggest lessons learned and what we’ll do differently next time.



I’m going to be honest, the first night of RUSH UIF (the event series for which the Makeathon served as the grand finale) we only had three people show up. It was disheartening and frustrating, and frankly, we still aren’t quite sure what went wrong with our marketing. You better believe from that point on, we were telling EVERYONE and encouraging them to tell others. That (and the free food) is how we ended up with 50-80 participants for the Makeathon and what ultimately turned out to be one of the best events the I&E program has held in the last three years.



This was our plan for the makeathon, and it worked out really well. Realize one thing: stuff happens that is out of your control, and all you can do is go with it and pivot as needed. What do you do when people start showing up 30 minutes early? Start playing that really awesome playlist and ask them to sit tight while you finish getting ready. Catering DROPPED your food in the floor? No problem! Let people talk and chill until the replacements get there. They’ll enjoy the free time, especially if it’s been a busy week. Food runs out in five minutes flat? Have your back-up pizza franchise on speed dial and order ASAP. Then let people know more food is on the way, and start the makeathon so you don’t lose your participants. And the list literally keeps going. The point I’m making is that yours truly would have been FREAKING out if I had every minor detail planned out to the minute. Creativity and innovation is all about being flexible and your event can be no different.


Everyone knows the one thing you need to get university students ANYWHERE is free food, so we made sure we had plenty (even if we ran out at one point) and that no one had the chance to get “hangry.” We also made sure to have a killer playlist with a mix of popular and not-so-popular songs everyone could groove to while working. Here is a link to the playlist we use for ALL of our events. It has good variety of upbeat songs, and we have gotten nothing but compliments every time we play it. Make sure to also have a good sound system for the music! Finally, we were able to get four super awesome door prizes from a local outdoor store (we live in a really outdoors-y area), including a North Face backpack, YETI tumbler, Eno hammock, and a gift card to the store. You could tell everyone was really excited to hear who won when the winners were announced, just make sure your winners are there to pick their prize.



So here’s all the really logistical stuff you’ve been dying to read. What do you do if this is the first makeathon you’ve ever held and you have no idea how many people to plan for (especially after the turnout on day 1 of the series)? Here’s what we did, and trust me, we had no idea what to expect beforehand…

  • FOOD: As far as food goes, you just never know. We were able to get Chick-fil-A to cater our food (the first time) for about 50 people. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough. Like I mentioned earlier, make sure you have your local pizza franchise on speed dial and call them as soon as you get the gut feeling you might not have enough for everyone. We did end up having left overs, but what university student isn’t going to take a free pizza off your hands?
  • MATERIALS: When planning on materials and tools, get what you think you need and double it. Thankfully, we were able to confiscate some materials from our campus maker space, so we ended up with plenty for everyone. A list of our materials can be found here. Students were also allowed to use anything they brought with them (except electronics, since this was a survival situation).
  • LIABILITY: Make sure you think about the liability that comes with the use of tools and other materials!!! We required all participants to sign liability waivers and photo consents as they walked in the door. If an accident happens, your university will thank you.
  • BUDGET: We raised money for our event in a variety of ways, including asking university departments to sponsor our events, getting university discounts, working with local store owners and managers to establish partnerships in which we exchanged free publicity for free/discounted materials and food. This went a LONG way in keeping the cost of this event down. Originally we had budgeted $800 for food and supplies. We were able to keep our costs pretty close to this number, but in hindsight, we would budget ~$2,000* for an event like this, with 50-80 participants (*this number does not account for donations or discounts and is relative to the Cookeville, TN area).
  • STAFF & PERSONNEL: This is really important, because no one person can manage all of the moving parts of an event like this on their own. Thankfully, I had eleven helpers including four UIFellows/candidates, a student volunteer, my own boss, another student who helps us out with photography (which is super important for your future events!), and four local business supporters/entrepreneurs. I was able to count on all of these people to do whatever I needed them to do and make sure all the participants were taken care of while I directed and worked out logistics. It wouldn’t have been a success without each and every one of them and the special touch they brought to the event and its execution.



No offense guys, but really. This was a complete oversight we had, and even though we got some pretty legit designs, they were still weapons at the end of the day. SO, if you are giving your participants any type of scenario, make sure you think about some of the solutions that could come out of it and if they have any hazardous consequences.

We also had some trouble with participants misusing the tools we provided by making them part of their design. Make sure everyone knows tools are meant to be used as tools and not as building materials.

Final ground rule: Be explicit in your directions for cleaning up. This ended up being somewhat of a disaster for us and we had to go back and re-organize our makercart at a later time because of it. Clearly tell your participants to replace unused and salvageable materials back in the location from which they took them. Labeling any boxes used to store certain materials is also a good idea.



Last, but not least, check out what’s going on in your area before you set the date for your event. We ended up having our makeathon at the same time as the first home football game. Thankfully, our participants aren’t completely the football-going type, but we probably lost a few people due to the conflict.

So that’s the gist of what we learned! Overall it was an amazing event and we received a TON of good feedback from those who participated. Hopefully you’ll find this article helpful in planning for events of your own in the future! If you have any questions, feel free to email Jacqueline at tntechuifellows@gmail.com.


jmschulz_profileAbout the author

Jacqueline Schulz is a University Innovation Fellow at Tennessee Tech. She serves as an Innovation Intern in the university innovation facility, the iCube, and has helped plan and execute numerous events and programs including university-wide pop-ups, the Tennessee Governor’s School for Business & Information Technology, the annual Eagle Works Business Pitch Competition, and RUSH UIF, a 4 part event series held at the beginning of the Fall 2016 semester. This event series reached students through events such as a movie night, pop-up “circuit”, happy hour unconference, and Tennessee Tech’s very first makeathon. Jacqueline has also been instrumental in acquiring and stocking four makercarts at Tennessee Tech, writing and submitting the first UIFellow budget proposal at TN Tech, and has worked in conjunction with numerous faculty members to encourage integration of creative and experiential learning within university curriculum across disciplines.

Learn more about her work as a University Innovation Fellow »

Changing the World: Adventures at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit

When Alexandra Seda, a University Innovation Fellow at Ohio Northern University, co-facilitated a workshop during Stanford University’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit, she met passionate changemakers from around the world. Here, she shares stories of five female entrepreneurs as well as her own journey of transformation.

Applications for the University Innovation Fellows program are due October 31, 2016.

by Alexandra Seda

A globe, a mountain, and creative people. What do they have in common? They’re what came to mind when I first heard about the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES). In June, I traversed to the West Coast to be one of nine University Innovation Fellows to co-facilitate the “Hack Your Creative Culture with Stanford d.school and Google” workshop, which was a partner event of GES. There, as students, we had the opportunity to share the steps we took to ignite change on our university campuses. The workshop was important because the process that my peers and I practiced to activate change on campus would be shared with entrepreneurs from all over the world.

Having the opportunity to possibly help a million people by teaching one person was a rewarding experience. Our willing participants were entrepreneurs who were hand selected to attend the 7th Annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Silicon Valley. We shared with them our methods to ignite change via the avenues of person, place, process, and passion. In return, they enriched us with their perspective.

“How do we enact change?” was a question my student peers and I sought to answer in helping to create an ecosystem of innovative and entrepreneurial opportunities for fellow students on our campus. A key to our success in engaging students at Ohio Northern University was recognizing the importance of environment. It is the foundational piece in adopting a culture where students can be creative inside and outside the classroom, which results in incredibly empowering outcomes. We recognized that our environment was not inspiring our students to think outside of the box or ask probing questions.

The University Innovation Fellows (UIF) program invited me to share a presentation on the processes we practiced on ONU’s campus in order to ignite change. We discovered that great moments of change are supported by processes that have an objective and engage participants each step of the way. The origins of these great moments are what often take “what is” and create the path to “what could be.” 

The GES participants chosen were selected from more than 5,000 entrepreneurs from across the world who submitted applications. The selected participants represented 170 countries and territories. They came from various parts of the globe, from Madagascar to Slovakia, to do one thing: connect. The power of connecting with different people is receiving the benefit of different perspectives, networks and insights. The GES event matters because when entrepreneurs from various parts of the world connect with one another, they will become better at solving problems and generating solutions to help larger groups of people at a larger scale and faster pace.

During the “Hack Your Creative Culture” workshop, Fellows shared ways in which they have helped shape or influence the education of their campuses by connecting with people, transforming places, enacting processes, and discovering passions/purposes.  There is no one way to enact change; individuals must pave their own paths according to the needs of their respective communities.

That day, the University Innovation Fellows created their own portals to travel through in order to understand the perspectives of the people around them, define the needs, brainstorm ideas, test and enact solutions. The definition of “portal” is a doorway or gateway. In the same way as Fellows, the entrepreneurs at the GES event formed their own individual portals in their communities to tackle problems, form solutions, and scale the solution to the size of need. While the “whys” of their stories are all different for all entrepreneurs, their stories share the power of connecting with others through portals.

Portals are exciting. Often these gateways to “wow” solutions that seem to do the impossible can feel out of reach for us, but when we hear the story of the person behind the portal, suddenly the experiences that lie ahead of the portal seem possible for all.

During my high school years, I seriously wondered if I would ever have the opportunity to serve others in a large way. That wonder turned into a belief in my heart that I had something to give to the people around me. I had an understanding of my responsibility to help others. I knew that my creativity was a skill worth developing further in order to do the most that I possibly could for others with the life that I was given. This belief is what spurred me to take a portal from Alabama to Ohio Northern University (ONU) to pursue engineering. And it was at ONU where I connected with incredible professors who pushed me to challenge myself in achieving more than I ever thought I would have by entering the UIF program. My life was forever changed once again, and through UIF, I was pushed to portal again to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit to share my insights of enacting process for change with entrepreneurs from all over the world.

We’re going to step through a few example portals from different participants to learn their perspectives, light bulb moments and advice for college students.


Michelle Moghtader

And now we travel to portal number one. Michelle Moghtader, a former journalist based in the Middle East, discovered a gap between countries. She noticed that each time she traveled to the two portals, Iran and the U.S., people would always ask questions about what the other portal was like. Michelle, passionate about storytelling, was impassioned to fill in the gaps that the news would often leave out about what life was like in different parts of the world. She co-founded Shared Studios, a multi-disciplinary arts, design, and technology collective. Through Shared Studios, literal portals were created: a global network of interconnected golden shipping containers.

The golden shipping containers are equipped with audio and video technology so that when individuals enter one, they are face-to-face and have the ability to communicate with someone else in a portal from another part of the world. The experiences that people in these portals have are unforgettable and eye opening, because individuals are physically going out of their way to connect with someone worlds away.


“People come to events like this [GES] to connect with people they wouldn’t normally connect with in their day to day lives” – Michelle Moghtader

Light Bulb Moment: Entrepreneurs are intentional about connecting with people who are different from them or that know something they do not know.

Michelle’s advice to college students: “Try to have as many diverse experiences, take as many diverse classes that you can. You got to get out of your comfort zone, and definitely set aside time to ask probing questions.”


Sindi Ntombini

Portal number two brings us to Swaziland, Africa, to meet Sindi Ntombini, who understood and experienced the need of the people of her homeland. Sindi recognized that many of the books provided through the African school systems were largely written about life in every part of the world but Africa. She recognized the impact that not having Afrocentric children’s reading and learning materials could have on her daughter’s identity and self-esteem, as well as imagined a whole continent of children possibly being negatively impacted the same way.


Sindi said, “Our mother would fall and rise again just to make sure we got an education. Our mom gave us a beautiful gift. That beautiful gift was education. I really, really believe that education is a gateway to everything. But how can you access education if you can’t read, if you need to read to learn, to read instructions?”

Equipped with their strongest assets of compassion and determination, Sindi and her sister founded Bhala Africa Publishing, a largely self-funded for-profit social entrepreneurship publishing company which writes and develops Afrocentric Children’s reading and learning material. Bhala Africa’s current series: “The Shenanigans of Mo & Mumu” is a 30-book series written in the Swazi language. Sindi’s focus is that children in Africa believe in their power to “write your own destiny, overwrite those disparities that exist.” Her mantra is, “Bhala Africa, Bhala Africa” which translates to “Write Africa, Write Africa.”  

Light Bulb Moment: Entrepreneurs are driven to make available the solutions they create with communities big and small. When entrepreneurs tackle problems, they have the ability to see the “one,” while at the same time being able to see the “many” in need, and gleaning any necessary insight essential to making things happen.

Sindi’s advice to college students thinking about or starting an entrepreneurial venture: “You have to have staying power. If you have staying power then you will be able to stick to the course that you believe in, that you started. It shouldn’t be that you are looking at an end, where it’s like, ‘this is how much I anticipate my company to be worth at the end so that I can sell it.’ Do it for the right reasons and that way it will give you staying power.”



Kalsoom Lakhhani

Away we go to portal number three, which brings us to Pakistan! Here we meet Kalsoom Lakhhani. She worked in philanthropy and was a former news blogger. 

She realized that Pakistan had a negative perception in the news. She would blog about the untold stories left out by the news from interviews she had with filmmakers, artists, and changemakers, essentially people on the ground doing really cool things. When she would encounter the same people she had interviewed with those great ideas again a few months later, she discovered that many of those ideas hadn’t taken off because there were no mentors, no investors, and siloed environments.  She realized that internationally, when people would look to invest, they would overlook the hard environments, where the potential was still really high.  She wanted to create and provide a solution in places where there was not one. She decided to pave a new path, and so she founded Invest2Innovate.

Based out of Pakistan, Invest2Innovate identifies early stage entrepreneurs, provides business support through their accelerator program, and maintains an Angel network that matches entrepreneurs with seed funding. They support startup communities in growth markets.

“Genius and innovation exist all over the world, not just in the places that you expect it.”-Kulsum Lahkhani

The mission of Invest2Innovate is to create and help startup communities flourish in places where people would least expect, the high potential areas with a lot of growth yet to go. And while they support the startup communities, they also seek ways to support the environments that surround the startup communities.

Light Bulb Moment: Entrepreneurs have the ability to see potential in people, places, products, and things before others do. The factors that predicate whether an entrepreneur sees a venture worth pursuing are factors that are measured by an unrecognized/unspoken need, experiential knowledge, and a willingness to experiment with no guarantee of reward.

Kalsoom Lakhani’s advice to college students: “A lot of young people in college that I meet feel like they have to conquer the world today, and it doesn’t have to be today. When you go out and have all those really diverse experiences that kind of create an amazing texture to whatever you will bring when you do decide to start your own company.” “We didn’t have direct paths to where we are today.” “Relax, just have fun, and be young.”


Nokwanda Thulile Mathenjwa

Portal number four takes us to Sandton, Africa, where we meet Nokwanda Thulile Mathenjwa. Nokwanda noticed that she had many clothes, purses, and other accessories in her closet that were collecting dust or space because she had either worn/used the items once, twice, or never. She realized that though these items no longer matched her current style tastes, the items might still be relevant for someone else’s fashion tastes. Nokwanda solved her own personal need and believed that the solution could scale to the market, and so she created Yamilet SA.


Yamilet SA is a retailer that buys and sells pre-loved clothing and accessories. Yamilet SA’s website states that they are the “retail unicorn that allows customers to find a treasure, protect the environment, and save money.” Nokwanda’s focus is to provide a refreshing shopping experience where buyers and sellers alike can benefit economically while also helping to save the environment from manufacturing wastes that would have occurred had new clothing and accessory items been produced.

Light bulb Moment: Entrepreneurs can solve their own personal needs and scale the solutions to the market if they know that the solution is entering an unsaturated market. This can lead to disruptive innovation by creating an offering that was not previously thought of or made available.

Nokwanda’s (entrepreneurial) advice to college students: “Not to be afraid to fail. When you fail, you can fail well when you learn from your failure because there is always room for improvement. If you are doing everything right all of the time. Okay, well you’re doing something wrong because you are not learning.”


Desayo Ajisegiri

We have now arrived to portal number five in Nigeria to meet Desayo Ajisegiri. In 2007, Desayo contracted malaria, which nearly took her life. When Desayo had the opportunity to study in the U.S., she decided to study medicine where she later uncovered her interest in innovation and in creating solutions that would help combat the serious issue of Malaria.

Desayo switched her major to chemical engineering and began researching methods of repelling mosquitoes. She learned about an effective ingredient that repelled mosquitoes, but realized that the ingredient was inaccessible to the people who needed it most. Desayo formulated a solution that could be incorporated into something the people of Nigeria already used: laundry detergent.

Desayo was successfully able to create a detergent that had a mosquito repellent solution included. The detergent provides clothes with the ability to repel mosquitoes for 14 to 27 days. Her solution was innovative in that it was able to take something that was largely inaccessible and provide a way for the ingredient to be accessible and convenient for the people that would use it daily through the washing of their clothes.

Light Bulb Moment: Entrepreneurs create solutions that are innovative. By innovative, I mean accessible and useful to the people who will benefit from the product. The ability to create, design, and invest in solutions that don’t change human behavior and seamlessly fit into daily routines is revolutionary.

Desayo said, “I was born to give people a reason to live and hope for a future. And so, each time I was faced with any self-doubt or people just stigmatizing me because I’m female or because I tend to be strong and passionate about what I’m doing that is not conventional, I go back to the drawing board and ask ‘Why am I doing this?’ I’m here for a purpose that must be earnestly achieved. I owe the world this solution. I want to re-write this plot. I have dedicated myself to impacting the world through a fusion of entrepreneurial and humanitarian initiatives aimed at solving current universal challenges. With a ‘first principles’ approach, I strive to reduce the global malaria footprint through the creation of a simple and effective solution, focused on minimizing the scourge of the malaria epidemic, particularly in developing countries.”

Desayo’s advice to college students: “Before you step out to do something, you need to know why you are doing what you are doing. Find that irrefutable reason to understand why you are doing what you are doing. The best way to find the ‘why’ is by being interested, open to trying different things.”


The five portals above show how the Global Entrepreneurship Summit is truly important because we are part of a much larger community: planet earth. The more we connect as a group of problem-solvers and changemakers, the better we become at discovering, designing, and testing solutions to scale to the needs of the people around us. We become smarter when we are more informed about perspectives that are not our own. Being on the summit of a mountain is helpful because we have a better vantage point of where we have previously been. The more we learn about others and what’s currently being done, the better we become at creating innovative, life-changing things that people need to go about their daily lives.

After GES, I felt re-energized and encouraged after interacting with all the entrepreneurs I encountered. Each entrepreneur I spoke to was optimistic about the future, and many of them were thinking about ways in which they could play a more active role in improving their communities. Before I truly understood what entrepreneurship was and the people who chose this way of life, I used to go along with the uninformed opinion of the people around me — that entrepreneurs only do what they do for the money. After the interactions I had with the entrepreneurs at GES, I was able to confidently say that what others said about entrepreneurs is simply not true. Entrepreneurs would not be entrepreneurs if they didn’t care about people, because people are the number one reason why they have the opportunity to make, fail, then make again.

Seda (right) with Gabriel Conners, a University Innovation Fellow and co-facilitator at the GES workshop.

Seda (right) with Gabriel Conners, a University Innovation Fellow and co-facilitator at the GES workshop.

As entrepreneurially minded people active within our communities, we must be vigilant and observe to everything around us. We must be comfortable being in positions that make us experience the need we are trying to fill in order to understand the issues at hand. Otherwise, we only become proficient at forming solutions based on what we think we know.

Additionally, the call to pave a new path will always be for individuals who are observant and ready to answer the need before them. We must never forget to consider our own problems, because our problems might be experienced by others, and they could be waiting for us to scale our personal solutions to the market. Great entrepreneurs are special because they will spend however much time is necessary in order to research what’s available, learn about current solutions, and decide whether a better solution can be formed in order to ensure accessibility for the customers in mind.

How will you portal and positively impact someone’s life today?


AlexandraSedaAbout the author

Alexandra Seda is an electrical engineering student at Ohio Northern University. She enjoys learning new things, reading and participating in community service oriented opportunities. After graduation, she plans to pursue an MBA at the University of Findlay. Learn more about her work as a University Innovation Fellow »

Creating a Connected City

At the William Jewell College Regional Meetup, University Innovation Fellows took part in a city-wide event to help Kansas City become a smart and sustainable city.

When six student teams pitched their business ideas on a Friday evening in early April, it was hard to believe that they’d met only 12 hours earlier. This process of forming teams around ideas and pitching products in such a short time period is the purpose behind #OneDayKC, a student-run event hosted by higher education institutions in Kansas City, MO.

This year, the event was combined with a University Innovation Fellows regional meetup hosted by William Jewell College. Fellows traveled from seven states to join Kansas City students and community members for #OneDayKC. They spent the second day visiting Kansas City coworking and accelerator spaces, connecting with higher education and business leaders, and engaging with prospective first-year students at William Jewell.

On Friday, April 1, 60 total participants including Fellows and students from 18 different high schools, colleges and universities arrived at the Kauffman Foundation for #OneDayKC. The event was run by students from three schools: William Jewell Fellows Bradley Dice, Trevor Nicks, Macy Tush, Alex Holden and Ben Shinogle; Rockhurst Fellows Michael Brummett and Mike Frazzetta; and University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC) student Tin Ho.

Trevor Nicks of William Jewell College kicks off #OneDayKC

Trevor Nicks of William Jewell College kicks off #OneDayKC. Photo by Laurie Moore.

#OneDayKC provided an opportunity for participants to connect with leaders and peers in the community to work on projects to help Kansas City become a smart and sustainable city. Participants were challenged to spend twelve hours forming a team, developing a product or service needed in the Kansas City area, and pitching that product or service to the whole group and a panel of judges at the end of the day.

“#OneDayKC builds community between students, local entrepreneurs, and our city,” said William Jewell Fellow Bradley Dice. “Through this event, we want our next generation of startup founders, product designers, urban planners, and community advocates to meet one another, develop an entrepreneurial mindset, and share a framework for innovation in Kansas City.”

The day kicked off with inspirational talks from thought leaders who are working toward recreating Kansas City into a “smart” and more sustainable place. Bob Bennett, the Chief Innovation Officer of Kansas City, spoke about his role in finding new ways to solve complex city problems, and Butch Rigby, owner of Screenland Theaters, discussed sustainable urban development. Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, the co-leader of the University Innovation Fellows program, led participants through a design thinking exercise, and Landon Young, Director of Creativity and Innovation at William Jewell College and co-founder of donateequity.com, shared details on the Lean Startup methodology. Attendees also heard personal stories of change in higher education from Humera Fasihuddin, co-leader of the University Innovation Fellows program, as well as several Fellows and student hosts of the event.

Fellows and Kansas City students work in teams during #OneDayKC

Fellows and Kansas City students work in teams during #OneDayKC. Photo by Laurie Moore.

The participants then formed teams around topics including energy and sustainability, transit and traffic, municipal services, health and well-being, education and workforce development, and culture and recreation. They spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon brainstorming on pain points that they could address and on experiments that would test their hypotheses.

In the afternoon, teams visited the Country Club Plaza shopping district of Kansas City, where they conducted interviews with shoppers and pedestrians to gather feedback about their ideas.

#OneDayKC participants speak with members of the public to gather feedback on their ideas. Photo by Chandler Eaton.

#OneDayKC participants speak with members of the public to gather feedback on their ideas. Photo by Chandler Eaton.

“From this, I learned the importance of empathizing with the customer and getting their perspectives,” said Asya Sergoyan, a University Innovation Fellow from the Colorado School of Mines. “We often think we know best. But then we go out into the community and talk to people and learn new things about their needs.”

Armed with the user insights, the participants worked to refine their ideas and pitches. That evening, the teams pitched their ideas at Rockhurst University to participants, invited guests and judges Frank Jurden of VML and TEDxKC, Tom Gerend of KC Streetcar, Humera Fasihuddin, and Dr. David Sallee, president of William Jewell College.

There was a tie for first place: winners were Empower U and Village Education, two projects that focused, respectively, on community education and matching students with mentors.

The #OneDayKC participants celebrate before their presentations. Photo by Chandler Eaton.

The #OneDayKC participants celebrate before their presentations. Photo by Chandler Eaton.

On Saturday, the University Innovation Fellows who attended #OneDayKC met for their own day of activities. In the morning, Fellows visited the ThinkBig coworking space to hear from a panel of local entrepreneurs and educators. Panelists were Risa Stein, professor of psychology at Rockhurst University; Zach Pettet, UMKC ’15, co-founder of #OneDayKC, and employee at blooom; Landon Young; Ben Williams, Assistant Director of the Regnier Institute at UMKC; Andrea Essner of the Center of Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development (C.E.E.D.); and Conner Hazelrigg, William Jewell College ’15, University Innovation Fellow, and founder of 17°73°.

Panel moderator Trevor Nicks asked the group how we can better prepare students in Kansas City, and around the country, to enter the entrepreneurial economy and compete at a global level. They discussed the importance of building community, promoting your achievements (even though it’s hard), asking for help (which is harder), making in-person rather than digital connections, helping others look good, using data to back up your activities, and forging alliances with faculty, administrators and community members that benefit both you and them.

The day after #OneDayKC, Fellows heard from a panel of local entrepreneurs and educators. Photo by Laurie Moore.

The day after #OneDayKC, Fellows heard from a panel of local entrepreneurs and educators. Photo by Laurie Moore.

“This has to be a grassroots movement,” said Risa Stein. “Students don’t realize how much power they have. Start communicating with your peers and help them speak the same language.”

After the panel, the group of Fellows toured the Sprint Accelerator with John Fein, Managing Director of the Sprint Accelerator. In this co-working space, Fellows learned about the dedication of a large global company to the innovation of a city. Sprint Accelerator is also the home of TechStars, a three-month, mentorship-driven startup accelerator that helps startups build the future of mobile technology.

Later that same day, Trevor Nicks and Macy Tush hosted a series of activities with prospective first-year William Jewell students, their parents, and Fellows. Nicks and Tush challenged the participants to create a business idea from combining a noun and an adjective supplied by the participants. For two of the three groups, the word “velociraptors” was chosen, which resulted in some animated pitches after the brainstorming finished. This activity gave the prospective students an opportunity to flex their brainstorming muscles, and gave visiting Fellows a look into how William Jewell Fellows are applying their design thinking and creativity skills.

Fellows helped run a workshop with prospective first-year William Jewell students and their parents. Photo by Laurie Moore.

Fellows helped run a workshop with prospective first-year William Jewell students and their parents. Photo by Laurie Moore.

The meetup concluded with a debrief of the day, a discussion of William Jewell’s #uifresh activities, and a group photo at the college’s iconic sign.

“I grew up in Kansas City, but the #OneDayKC event was the first chance I had to see the city as an adult, and I was blown away,” said Alex Bina, a Fellow at Clemson University. “As a newly minted UIF, I continue to be amazed at how innovation drives economic development. It was a frantic weekend full of fun and progress.”
Related articles and media:

Article: https://medium.com/@trevornicks/higher-ed-local-business-preparing-students-for-the-entrepreneurial-economy-in-kansas-city-cd35695f2020#.ovrjqhdu4

Article: http://hilltopmonitor.com/onedaykc-innovates/

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMM8bz4ITDM&feature=youtu.be&a

Photo gallery: https://www.flickr.com/photos/epicenterusa/sets/72157666091606354

UIF William Jewell College Regional Meetup

How to Activate Student Changemakers

More than 300 University Innovation Fellows and their faculty sponsors spent four days in Silicon Valley learning how to make lasting change in higher education.

by Laurie Moore

In the third week of March, hundreds of students traveled to Silicon Valley. For many of them, it was spring break. They could have been relaxing on a beach or making up for lost sleep. Instead, they were learning how to create solutions for challenges at their schools and out in the world.

At the University Innovation Fellows Silicon Valley Meetup, more than 300 Fellows and Fellows’ faculty sponsors from 83 universities took part in four packed days of activities (view agenda). They spent their time learning at Google, Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school), and Microsoft, and toured several Bay Area companies and organizations. They learned everything from how to create spaces for innovation to how to be effective leaders and supportive followers. All of the activities were focused on giving participants tools, connections and inspiration to make lasting changes back at their home institutions.

Humera Fasihuddin, co-leader of the University Innovation Fellows program, described the inspiration behind the meetup: “As a young college graduate, I saw Silicon Valley as a place where dreams could come true because the community possessed a creative culture, appetite for risk and an entrepreneurial mindset. This event demystifies those components and arms student leaders with tools to lead a movement at their schools.”

University Innovation Fellows Silicon Valley Meetup 2016

After a Thursday night registration, attendees woke up early Friday morning and boarded buses to Google for a full day co-hosted by Frederik Pferdt — head of Innovation and Creativity Programs at Google and co-founder of The Garage — and Fellows program co-leader Leticia Britos Cavagnaro. Pferdt shared his thoughts on the innovation culture at Google and the importance of using a “yes, and” mindset rather than “yes, but.” The “yes, and” mindset allows team members to build on one another’s ideas, while the only opportunity a “yes, but” mindset provides is to add an objection. The first mindset facilitates conversation and creates new ideas while the second shuts them down.

From left, program co-leaders Humera Fasihuddin and Leticia Britos Cavagnaro and Frederik Pferdt. Photos by Ryan Phillips.

The Fellows heard from Tilek Mamutov, project manager of special projects at X (formerly Google X), about “10x” or moonshot thinking. He encouraged them to think big and create a solution 10 times better than what already exists. Later in the day, attendees took part in a mindfulness exercise directed by Google’s Ruchika Sikri and discussed people development at Google with panelists Sikri, Adam Leonard, Emily Triantos, and Regina Getz-Kikuchi.

The students and faculty teams also participated in a series of activities designed to promote moonshot thinking. They stepped through the design thinking methodology, learning how to brainstorm as many solutions as possible and how to prototype and test their ideas using inexpensive materials.

“I loved the idea of having a 10x mindset at Google because it made us think big,” said Zack Jones, a Fellow from the University of Delaware. “We tackled problems that were huge and started thinking of small steps to conquer them.”

Top left: students in a design thinking challenge; top right: Molly Wasko wins the “Rock Paper Scissors” tournament; bottom left: a brainstorming prompt; bottom right: Fellow Bre Przestrzelski interviews panelists on people development at Google.

During the day at Google, participants took part in several exercises to help them empathize with one another, let go of their assumptions, and create lasting bonds with teammates. In addition to preparing the students for the activities to come, these exercises are are also ones that the students can use back at their schools as warm-ups for events with their fellow students. In one exercise, they participated in a tournament-style “Rock Paper Scissors” competition with a twist: each loser became the winner’s biggest cheerleader. The end result was two competitors each backed by half of the entire room cheering their names, and the winner was Molly Wasko, a faculty sponsor from the University of Alabama.

“The life lesson there is to be flexible,” wrote DJ Jeffries, a Fellow from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, in an article about his day at Google. “Realize that your idea might not always be the winning idea but if you cheer for the person who does win, you win.”

The Fellows and their faculty sponsors spent Saturday at Stanford’s d.school taking part in a circuit of activities that allowed them to explore different ways of learning. They discovered the connections between leadership and movement with Stanford contemporary dance instructor Aleta Hayes, explored how the d.school uses physical space to promote specific learning outcomes and explored how learning can happen everywhere, beyond the walls of the classroom.

Later in the day, the participants heard from entrepreneur and educator Steve Blank, who was interviewed by Epicenter director and Stanford Engineering professor Tom Byers. Blank, “the Obi Wan Kenobi of Innovation” as one Fellow referred to him on Twitter, spoke about the need for students to learn an entrepreneurial mindset and shared details about the new “Hacking for Defense” class he started teaching this quarter at Stanford.

Participants also took part in a workshop on Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats system for group discussion, a session on visual thinking taught by high school students from the Nueva School, a workshop on how to design their own pop-up classes, and an improvisation class with d.school lecturer Dan Klein.

Top left: Steve Blank chats with Tom Byers; top right: Fellows show off their leadership moves; bottom left: Dan Klein leads an improv workshop; bottom right: Fellows try on different different thinking hats.

In the evening, keynote speaker Peter Sims — an entrepreneur, author and social innovator — spoke to the Fellows about social change in the world today. During his talk, he mentioned GoldieBlox, a company that creates toys and games to help girls develop early interest in engineering and problem-solving confidence. This mention triggered an enthusiastic response from Nada Saghir, a Fellow from Lawrence Technological University, who was sitting in the front row. Nada was invited on stage to share details about the company with the audience. Sims was so taken by her enthusiasm that he offered to connect her with company founder Debbie Sterling for a potential internship.

Saghir shared her thoughts on this unique experience: “The environment created by the UIF program provided me the confidence and courage to talk about my passion in front of over 300 people. One essay in my UIF application was about Debbie Sterling’s impact on my lifelong passion to encourage girls into STEM, so it was a surreal experience to discuss my favorite company in front of like-minded students. I was unapologetically passionate about my love for GoldieBlox on stage, and my interaction with Peter proved to me that it’s okay to be so.”

On Sunday morning, the last full day of the meetup, the group headed to Microsoft, a visit that had been left a surprise until the buses pulled up at Microsoft Silicon Valley headquarters in Mountain View. Attendees heard about the connections between culture, innovation and leadership from Jeff Ramos, Senior Director of The Microsoft Garage, and about early-career leadership perspectives from Rolly Seth of Microsoft and the World Economic Forum. Christine Matheney, Technical Evangelist at Microsoft, encouraged Fellows to constantly ask themselves “why do we do it that way?” and T. K. Rengarajan, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Technology and Research Global, shared a big vision for changing the world.

“Tapping into the energy, talent and creativity of the 300 Fellows was an exhilarating experience,” said Ramos. “It was sincerely a pleasure working with talented students who clearly will make a mark on the world through their work.”

Top left: Jeff Ramos speaks to the Fellows; top right: selfies at Microsoft; bottom left: Fellows present ideas at the unconference; bottom right: brainstorming new ideas to impact education.


After hearing from Microsoft leaders, Leticia Britos Cavagnaro kicked off an unconference, which encourages a casual idea exchange around participant prompts and questions. Questions that Fellows and their faculty posed included “how might we bring innovation and design thinking to the research setting?” and “how can we integrate tools for discovering your passion into all levels of education?” At the end of the unconference, groups that had formed around the questions pitched their ideas to the whole group.

“Too many conferences are about students, yet students don’t get to participate or they don’t have a voice,” said Britos Cavagnaro. “The UIF Meetup is for students and by students. The unconference is a great format to allow them to set the agenda and surface those issues that are important to them.”

The group traveled to the d.school for the rest of the afternoon, where they took part in a negotiation workshop with David Johnson of the Stanford Law School. Fellows learned how to have better conversations with stakeholders at their schools by taking part in a role-playing experience to understand the perspectives of others.

Afterwards, the entire group of Fellows and faculty gathered in the d.school atrium for a fireside chat with Sebastian Thrun, founder of Google X, and CEO and co-founder of Udacity. Interviewed by Fellow Ryan Phillips, Thrun advised the group to make learning a part of their daily lives. He told the Fellows that fear is the culprit of lack of innovation, and that true leaders have the guts to do the right thing.

Sebastian Thrun, interviewed by Ryan Phillips, shares his advice with the attendees.


As a colorful and uplifting end to three incredible days, Fellows were asked to write their learnings from the meetup on construction paper, and then to fold that paper into airplanes. On the count of three, the attendees threw their airplanes up into the open space of the the d.school atrium. Britos Cavagnaro collected a few of the airplanes and read the statements to the group, including “start with love,” “inspiration requires action,” “think like a child,” and “innovation cannot be ordered — we can only create a space that allows it to happen.”

On Monday, many of the students took part in learning journeys to innovative Bay Area companies and organizations before traveling back to their schools. Groups spent the morning visiting Microsoft, Autodesk, co.lab, Nearpod, Stanford Technology Ventures Program, Stanford’s Center for Design Research, Stanford’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, SAP, LucasFilm, Draper University and StartX.

Just as the Fellows community believes that students should be co-designers of their education, students were also co-designers of the entire Silicon Valley Meetup. Along with program staff, 18 Fellows facilitated sessions, assisted with event logistics, and presented their stories to the attendees throughout the event. The Fellows who co-led this event were Chris Ashley, Timothy Moore and Jack O’Neill of James Madison University; Francis Atore of NXP Semiconductors and Texas Tech University ’14; Robin Bonatesta of Kent State University; Corey Brugh of the Colorado School of Mines; Bradley Dice of William Jewell College; Magann Dykema and Bradley Turner of Michigan Technological University; Adrien Feudjio of Morgan State University; Nadia Gathers of CODE2040 and Converse College ’15; Benjamin Matthews of the University of Virginia; Ryan Phillips of Microsoft and the University of Oklahoma ’15; Bre Przestrzelski of Clemson University; Valerie Sherry of the University of Maryland; Tanner Wheadon of Utah Valley University; Daricia Wilkinson of the University of the Virgin Islands; and Alan Xia of Kettering University.

“This UIF meetup was hands-down the very best academic learning experience I have ever participated in,” said Ken Bloemer, a Fellows faculty sponsor and Director of the Visioneering Center at the University of Dayton. Bloemer attended the meetup along with Fellows from his school who were funded by the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN). “Daniela, Reid, Cameron, Suzy and Devin are pumped up and now well-equipped to go back to campus and drive significant change.”

“This was a transforming weekend,” said Aaron Phu, a Fellow at Saint Louis University. “It was great to meet and learn from other Fellows as well as the speakers and the venues in Silicon Valley. One key takeaway is to be passionate about what you’re doing. It is the engine to drive you towards your goals.”

“Energized by what they’ve learned, these Fellows have already hit the ground just a week after the meetup, holding hackathons, building new spaces and meeting with campus leaders,” said Humera Fasihuddin. “We’re excited to see the continued impact they will have on campus and in their communities.”


Photos by Laurie Moore, Ryan Phillips and Alan Xia.

View photos, videos and resources from the Meetup at universityinnovationfellows.org/materials-2016-silicon-valley-meetup

The Art of Making

by Katie Dzugan


It was a cloudy, rainy day during finals week in April 2015 when we arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to visit 6 Fellows at the University of Pittsburgh (UPitt). UPitt is a sprawling, urban campus with beautiful stone buildings that spans 132 acres of city blocks. Campus was abuzz with students walking from building to building and occupying all the study spaces.

We met Fellows Nate Smialek, Brian Rhindress, Ian McIntyre, Madhur Malhotra, Jenny Sommer and David Jacob at the Innovation Institute, along with supporter Babs Carryer, Director of Education and Outreach. The Innovation Institute was recently launched through the Office of the Provost in 2013 to bring together major areas of innovation on campus: the Office of Technology Management, Office of Enterprise Development and the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence. This recent structure was put in place to build a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at UPitt, which fits with the mission of the Fellows and their faculty sponsor, Mary Besterfield-Sacre, and provides a neutral zone across campus to foster a hotbed of activity in regards to innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E).


In the main conference room, outfitted with whiteboards and smart TVs, we were able to learn about the recent projects the Fellows had undertaken. The first project was the Pitt Design Hub. The Design Hub is a student organization originally named Engineers for Sustainable Medical Devices (ESMD) that was created by Fellow (now UPitt alumna) Karuna Relwani. ESMD’s mission was to provide biomedical engineering students with hands-on experience working with physicians to design medical devices that physicians would actually use, from surgical mounts to brain stimulation. As the student organization grew, and more Fellows joined the crew at UPitt during the last year, ESMD has rebranded and grown into the Design Hub. The Design Hub has the same mission to still connect students to real-world projects and local physicians, but the student organization wanted to be more inclusive of other majors outside of biomedical engineering to reach all engineers and other majors, such as business.

Karuna Relwani presents at Open 2014

The second project we learned about was the freshman-level course the Fellows were involved with, “The Art of Making: Hands-on System Design and Engineering.”

“In this class, our goal was to teach concepts like ideation, rapid prototyping and design thinking along with promoting the maker culture,” said Madhur Malhotra, University Innovation Fellow. “Throughout the class, we introduced technologies like Arduino, LittleBits, Solidworks and so on. The final project involved combining such technologies and developing a cool and useful solution with them.”

During the semester, the students participating in the class turned the classroom into a mini makerspace with hardware, tool kits, low-resolution prototyping materials and more. Building this space and experiencing the class allowed the freshmen to be actively involved with learning the curriculum. In the final 3 weeks of the class, the students focused on a specific project of their choosing. These projects stemmed from interactive periodic tables to a pineapple that controlled the playing of a violin. The student projects were showcased on the outer wall of the classroom in the hallway by a projector displaying rotating images.


After catching up, we were able to get a tour of the engineering building, which is where the freshman class “Art of Making” is held (see photos of the classroom above), and where meetings for the Design Hub occur. We saw everything the students did and didn’t have access too, ranging from study spaces to classrooms and hallways to music studios. Interestingly, the hallways were a massive space for students to sprawl out and collaborate on projects or just to work and study, being at least 15 feet wide with whiteboard walls. Our visit was jam-packed with information and tours of campus and we were extremely excited that the Fellows made time for us during the busiest time of the semester.

After experiencing different adventures over the summer, the Fellows came back together to continue innovating the Pitt campus this fall. Updates since the summer include (provided by Madhur Malhotra):

  • Adding a unit to the “Art of Making” course focused on media and how to communicate a design/product effectively through visual media.
  • The Fall 2015 course was developed for upperclassman to spread the maker culture across other classes within UPitt’s engineering department.
  • 7 final projects from the “Art of Making” were presented at the bi-annual Design Expo.
There’s a lot of action through the Fellows at the University of Pittsburgh and we’re excited to see what the new year will bring. Keep up the great work!

P.S. This post was written during the UIF Roadtrip 2015

Apply by May 11th for Fall 2015 Cohort

March 16, 2015 — The National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter) has opened the application process for its University Innovation Fellows program for U.S. college and university students. The application deadline is May 11, 2015. Learn more and apply at http://dreamdesigndeliver.org/apply.

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.

The program is run by Epicenter, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University and VentureWell (formerly NCIIA).

The Fellows believe that all students need to leave school better prepared to tackle our world’s big problems and create new and fulfilling jobs for themselves and others. They help their peers learn an entrepreneurial mindset and creative confidence by creating student design and maker spaces, founding entrepreneurship clubs and organizations, working with faculty to design courses, and hosting events and workshops. At present, there are 291 active Fellows from 115 schools across the country.

Fellows take part in online training and in-person regional and national gatherings to study their campus ecosystems. The program provides a platform for Fellows to learn to be strategic thinkers, develop a student community to share strategies about what’s working at their schools, examine the landscape of learning opportunities at their schools, and formulate action plans to implement their ideas. Throughout the year, they have opportunities to learn from their network of Fellows, Epicenter mentors, and leaders in academia and industry.

Leah Bauer and Kathryn Christopher are University Innovation Fellows working together at Grand Valley State University.

“As Fellows, we realized that it had become commonplace for students at GVSU to only interact with other students in their major,” they said. “To help break down these barriers, we created a group on campus called IDEA (Interdisciplinary Entrepreneurship Alliance) that brings in problems from the outside world and encourages students to collaborate with students outside their major and use the design thinking framework to come up with solutions. The ultimate goal of our work is to teach students how to solve any problem they are faced with. Changing the way the students learn at GVSU and across the nation has become our passion, and the impact that it will create will not only benefit our university but also our community.”

David Duncan, Director of the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurial Development at Clark Atlanta University, works with a team of University Innovation Fellows.

“Clark Atlanta University is committed to creating transformational change focused on fostering an ethos of innovation across all disciplines,” Duncan said. “Student participation and engagement in this transformation is vital. I am working hand in hand with our four University Innovation Fellows as I continue to build Clark Atlanta’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Development. From the innovation ecosystem mapping to the connections made with other institutions, the University Innovation Fellows program has been catalyst for this effort.”

Students, faculty and university leaders are forging partnerships like this across the country as part of the University Innovation Fellows program.

Join the movement! The application deadline for the University Innovation Fellows program is May 11, 2015. Students can request an application, and faculty can request an application to sponsor a student at http://dreamdesigndeliver.org/apply/.

Application and program details:

  • The application deadline is May 11, 2015.
  • Ideally, applicants are undergraduate students in engineering or other related STEM fields. However, Epicenter is thrilled to consider undergraduate and graduate applicants from all disciplines who are interested in technology, innovation and entrepreneurship and who are passionate about making a lasting impact at their schools.
  • Students can apply individually or in groups of up to five, called a Leadership Circle.
  • Applicants are sponsored by a faculty or administrator who can provide a program fee, secure funding for travel and provide a letter of support.
  • Following acceptance, students take part in a 6-week online training and in-person events. Upon successful completion, students participate in a three-day immersive experience in Silicon Valley.

Learn more and apply at http://dreamdesigndeliver.org/apply.

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

This post originally appeared on the Epicenter website on March 16, 2015: http://epicenter.stanford.edu/page/press-release-apply-by-may-11-university-innovation-fellows-program.

We Really are Going to Change the World

Alexandra Hamon, University of Oklahoma


Alexandra Hamon is a Computer Science major at the University of Oklahoma. Alexandra is a passionate people person who is always excited to learn something new and inspire others to do the same. For her full bio, click here.




I graduated from high school with a Senior class of 83 people. Needless to say, it was a very new experience for me to be in a room with 200 talented, driven people, each with a vision to leave the world better than they found it. The UIF Meetup was fun, engaging, and inspiring, but most importantly, it was an affirmation that there are students around the country who want more than to pass their classes and graduate.

It was one thing to see everyone over webcam and comment on each other’s posts, but it was another to get to meet face-to-face, shake hands, and laugh together. It wasn’t about being at Google or Stanford, we could have been anywhere (though I am definitely glad we got to meet in such cool places). It was about just being together and becoming a team. At some point, I looked around and thought to myself, “We really are going to change the world“.


Last Day for Applications!!

Dear future UI Fellow Candidates and Faculty Sponsors,

Today is the VERY LAST DAY to submit an application to be considered for candidacy in our Spring 2014 cohort. We will not be accepting late applications. Visit our blog for testimonials from current and active UI Fellows. For more information, visit the student page or the faculty page. We look forward to seeing your application and are very excited about our plans for our new cohort!



UI Fellow Program Staff

Thoughts From UIFs

The six-week UIF Training Program was fundamental in transforming us, the UIFs, into advocates for our schools, our students, and our I&E movements.  I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with countless other motivated students from across the country and have stayed in close contact with many of them- comparing our campus obstacles, our plans for our students, and bouncing ideas off of each other.  The network we formed by way of the 6-week UIF training has been incomparable to any network of students I’ve had before.  We are people who get the job done and have some fun while we’re at it.  I am looking forward to continuing to interact with them and with NCIIA in the future.

Breanne Przestrzelski is pursuing her Ph.D. at Clemson University. Her research focus is innovation and design in sports biomedical engineering. For more information, visit Bre’s Student Profile page.


Appealing to Your University’s Faculty and Staff

If you participated in the Fall 2013 cohort, you may recall Humera repeating a common statement throughout session 5. For those of you that didn’t participate, this will still interest you. Here is that recurring statement:

“By connecting to other campuses that have been successful, and borrowing from those ideas you hear from your UIF peers, it removes the fear of the unknown for faculty.”

The unfortunate truth in this statement is that universities are laggards (i.e. extremely slow adopters). The ironic part is universities shouldn’t be, and we as UIFs, understand this. Universities are the training facilities of future intelligent generations and need to keep up with what we demand to learn through higher education. Knowing this, you need to be prepared to appeal to the senses of your university, and every university wants reassurance that your idea is going to work and eliminate any and all risk involved.

The best way to create reassurance is to build case studies based on your UIF peer successes or otherwise. These ideas don’t need to necessarily be university-related examples. Ideas can stem from the corporate world and be adapted to your campus ecosystem. I digress to our days of learning from the sing-a-longs of School House Rock, but they got it right when they said, “Knowledge is Power.” The more knowledge you acquire about how these ideas were actually successful, the more faculty and staff will be willing to listen and help you execute your plans.

When looking at potential case studies, you will want to know specific details upfront. When you find the idea you want to implement on your campus, reach out to the people who organized it. This process is much like your experience in building the resources section on the wiki and reaching out to key organizational leaders. Apply that here. Find out how they started, what platforms they used to organize information, how they reached out to volunteers, how they found money, how they landed their keynote speaker, etc. Keep asking them open-ended ‘how’ questions;  this will help you get the most information. This will also jump start your efforts if you get your faculty and/or staff on board. (And who knows – the person you contacted may want to help you be successful.)

After you have done your research and built a stash of great examples, solidify a meeting time and create a plan of approach. Know what you want to say; identify the goals you want to achieve out of this meeting; and practice your spiel. The person(s) you are going to meet with has a time-sensitive schedule and you will typically engage or lose their attention within the first three minutes, so hook them.Speak passionately and confidently about everything you prepared for and what you want to take action on at your campus.

In your plan of approach, anticipate for questions and don’t falter when they ask. By asking you questions, they are making sure that you have done your research and actually know what you are talking about. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” If you need to say “IDK,” follow it with something you do know that directly relates to the question they are asking. Or follow an “IDK” with asking for their advice on how to answer the question they posed. You want them to be so engaged that they are inadvertently dumping information on you that you weren’t aware of and will help you execute your plan (may be helpful to take notes or bring a second person dedicated to taking notes). Faculty and staff will wear the black hat. To prepare for this, talk about your idea with as many students, friends, classmates, or other mentors beforehand. Keep record of the questions they ask you so you can find answers and be more prepared for your meeting.

During your meeting, be aware of with whom you are speaking. Watch their body language and yours. Their tone of voice will also hint at their interest. Make sure they are speaking to you as an equal and not down at you. If they appear to be speaking down at you, your message is being lost on deaf ears. If this is the case, don’t begin pleading and make sure you don’t react to their actions toward you out of haste. Take a deep breath and remember to respond respectfully. Cut the meeting politely and move on. This is a sign that you will need to continue your search in finding a faculty mentor that will listen, encourage and support your efforts.

The faculty and staff on your campus will support you more confidently if you can back up your ideas with evidence that your effort will be successful. In asking for university resources, your mentor will also be more willing to go to bat for you in securing those resources if they can provide the evidence you have connected to other significant influencers. The less perceived risk involved will increase their eagerness to get involved with your movement. So I close with the same recurring statement:

“By connecting to other campuses that have been successful, and borrowing from those ideas you hear from your UIF peers, it removes the fear of the unknown for faculty.”


~ Katie Dzugan, University Innovation Fellow (Spring 2013) &
Program Associate, University Innovation Fellows

Thoughts From UIFs

“The UI Fellows program helped me immensely not only in my entrepreneurial endeavors, but in creating a lasting impact at my university. During the training I learned what it takes to be a leader, to tell a compelling story, and to work alongside a community in making a sustainable impact. Possibly the most important thing about being a UI Fellow is the other amazing students in the program. By sharing our experiences, we collectively learned more as a group than any one of us ever could alone. I would recommend any aspiring leader and student entrepreneur to join the UI Fellows.”

Elliot Roth is studying at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is currently the president of SEED at VCU.

UIF News: Twitter Chat


Big Beacon has invited Epicenter back for a Twitter Chat! The topic will be design thinking in engineering. If you would like to join in, use #BigBeacon during the designated time and you will be able to follow the live conversation. Join the conversation by answering questions and chatting with other participants. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014
5 p.m. Pacific / 8 p.m. Eastern

Here is a link to Epicenter’s previous Twitter chat with Big Beacon.













Great Product

I am ruthless! Thank you, @BenEinstein of Bolt, for articulating the INSTINCTS and RUTHLESSNESS required to bring a great product into the world.

Chelsea Clinton Gets to the STEM of Gender Inequality on Huff Post

Trish Compas-Markman, Engineering Innovator and Founder of DayOne Response highlighted in Clinton’s Huffington Post article.

In an excellent piece released today on Huffington Post, Chelsea Clinton articulates the reasons why the time is now for gender equality in STEM. We need to better harness the curiosity, imagination and inventive spirit of the other half of the globe’s population. Until we do, we are sub-optimum at a time when the world’s problems beg for creative solutions.

Among the reasons cited, Clinton tells the story of a 2009 NCIIA grantee, receiving $20,000 to give DayOne Response it’s early start at CalPoly. Clinton writes, “In 2008, Tricia Compas-Markman, who went on to earn a Master of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering at California Polytechnic State University in 2009, received an Outstanding Commitment Award from CGI U for her now-patented invention, the DayOne Waterbag. Tricia invented the personal water treatment device — which provides collection, treatment, transport, and storage all in one lightweight unit — in order to prevent waterborne diseases in developing nations prone to natural disaster, such as Thailand, Nicaragua, and Haiti. For her invention, Tricia won first place in her university’s Ray Scherr Business Plan Competition, the Creativity Foundation’s Legacy Prize, and the Outstanding Young Person’s award in Japan for social innovation. Her example inspired other students, including young woman, to imagine, to invent, to innovate — and helped underscore why STEM is so often vital to translating ideas into solutions.”

I urge Student Ambassadors, in specific, and University leaders in general to read the article on the Huffington Post site and think of ways to attract more women to their STEM programs as they cultivate the next generation of innovators.

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Manager of Student Programming, T: @ihumera

Macklemore! Purdue Makes Engineering Cool

Student Ambassadors welcome nine new candidates this week at the OPEN Conference in Washington D.C., including an undergraduate and graduate student from Purdue. Between the commitment to train two engineering towards the student-led movement to expand Innovation and Entrepreneurship activity and this AMAZINGLY COOL engineering parody of “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, there’s no question Purdue is aiming to kick things up a notch on that campus. Check it…



~ Humera Fasihuddin, Manager of Student Programming, T: @ihumera

Stanford E-Week and Bay Area Stomping Grounds

photo(34)Student Ambassadors arrive to SFO today, hitting Stanford’s signature Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders lecture series first, followed by the popular Spirit of Entrepreneurship course. These two offerings represent ingredients in ‘secret sauce’ at Stanford and Student Ambassadors will be attending both. Among the other amazing things planned is a tour of Google and PayPal… and the meeting of 20 Google Venture-backed companies. Stay tuned here for pictures, comments and ideas for student leaders all over the nation. Student Ambassadors who are not here with us in the Valley this week will enjoy an extensive report and briefing of the opportunities uncovered that they can take advantage of for their own campuses. By the way, the Spring Training session has been pushed forward to March, closer to the OPEN conference. There’s still time to register for training. Visit this link for details.

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Manager of Student Programming, T: @ihumera

Speaking of Cooper Union, Rachel Maddow Show!

Genius! Pizza Pulley for Engineering Protesters at Cooper Union covered on Rachel Maddow Show.

Cooper Union history and sit-in, which started Monday, is highlighted during last night’s Rachel Maddow show.

School administrators may begin charging tuition (presently a free education for every student) to make up for annual operating losses. Learn more by watching the Rachel Maddow show here. A group of Cooper Union alumns bought the students pizza and used engineering genius, and a combination of balloons, counterweights and a pulley, to deliver it to the 8th floor of the clocktower.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Exploding Pumpkins!

Licensed under creative commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/canadianmum/5170797024/

What do exploding pumpkins and design clubs have in common? Elliot Roth, our Student Ambassador Candidate from Virginia Commonwealth University. Read all about it at the new post published by our collaborators at the Epicenter…