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

UIF Roadtrip April 2015

7 Days. *5 Campuses. 25 Fellows.

Picture of Ford Expedition

Follow #uifellows for LIVE updates!

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Humera and Katie are hitting the road, traveling through eight states to visit University Innovation Fellows, faculty sponsors and administrative leadership, to experience their spaces of innovation and hear stories of the way in which student engagement is expanding opportunities for peers and creating lasting institutional change.

First stop is James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where Fellows are holding Bluestone Hacks, the first-ever student led hackathon. Innovative students are prompted to hack solutions to real issues over 24 hours. We’re excited to judge ‘food and agricultural’ innovations, and view team projects in the ‘healthcare’ and ‘consumer devices & tools’ categories.

Next stop — Richmond, VA, to visit our University of Virginia Fellows. Our venue is the infamous Tom Tom Festival which we’ve heard about for years from Elliot Roth, a Fellow from Virginia Commonwealth University. There, we’ll be crashing the Genius Hour, “a showcase of interactive technology with all kinds of innovators, students, creators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers and enthusiasts.”

We’ll hit the road again, headed to Kent State in Kent, Ohio, for a walk-through of innovative spaces on campus including their TechStyleLAB, Blackstone Launchpad, Student Multimedia Studio and the Architecture Library. Afterwards, we’ll attend a meeting where Fellows present their experiences and plans to campus administration. We’ll end our time at Kent meeting the team at HacKSU, the masterminds behind the growing annual Kent Hack Enough, the Kent State Fashion/Tech Hackathon (which explores the growing wearables technology industry), and many other cool learning opportunities that get Kent-area students excited about making, tinkering and engineering new and creative innovations.

Heading back East, we’ll hit Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Fellows at the University of Pittsburgh have a strong partnership with numerous innovative faculty. Our first Fellow, Karuna Relwani (who has since graduated), tells the story of the early days when she and her student colleagues worked to form the ESMD Club (Engineers for Sustainable Medical Development). Now, the program has grown substantially, has systematized its organizational structure (currently on its third President), expanded into a new space which is staffed by an Innovation Director, and has undertaken a beautiful rebranding with the name Pitt DesignHub.

Our trip may include some surprise stops along the way in PA, NY and CT, so be sure to stay tuned with LIVE tweets, photos and video right here on this page!

Hittin’ the road!

Humera and Katie

**Updated 5/5/15: Our surprise stop was to La Salle University in Philadelphia, Pa., making this a 5 campus-tour. (Posts coming soon)

Read all posts in this series here:

UIF Roadtrip April 2015

Virginia is for Makers

Just Kent Get Enough

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

For Immediate Release
October 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about the University Innovation Fellows at and

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

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


Thoughts From UIFs

“The UIF training was hands-down one of the most beneficial programs in
which I have participated during my time in undergrad. Training isn’t a
learning experience rather, an eye-opening one. UIF mentors taught us how
to log, chart, evaluate, and predict events on our campuses and use them
to create unique opportunities for ourselves and our peers. Aside from
the landscape evaluation, the network of like-minded individuals has
provided us all with a valuable resource – each other. By speaking to one
another and sharing ideas and experiences we were able to learn from our
successes and failures and build strong programs in our respective
universities. I plan on continuing my active status in the organization
and recommend it, without reservation, to anyone interested in joining the
entrepreneurial movement.” – Nathan Smialek

Nathan Smialek is a Junior at the University of Pittsburgh studying Bioengineering. For more information, visit Nathan’s Student Profile page.