A Celebration to Remember

All photos by Patrick Beaudouin.

330 students and faculty from 80 schools joined us for our program’s fifth birthday during the Silicon Valley Meetup on November 16-20, 2017.  

by Laurie Moore

It was a weekend of firsts, perfect for a birthday celebration. When the University Innovation Fellows program turned five years old in Fall 2017, our program team decided to do things a little differently for our signature Silicon Valley Meetup.

Due to the increased number of students who went through training this year, we held our first Fall Meetup, making 2017 the first year we’ve held two Meetups. For the first time, we invited back all 1,000+ Fellows who have gone through the program to join us for our first-ever music-themed design challenge. We hosted our first concert with Grammy Award-winning artist Grace Weber. And we celebrated the end of the day by blowing out candles on a chocolate birthday cake (a first) and a dance party with performances of UIF-themed raps (not a first).

It was a birthday to remember.

300 students and 30 faculty from 80 schools joined us for the Silicon Valley Meetup on November 16-20, 2017. The Meetup was the culmination of the 6-week online training for Fellows who joined the program in Fall 2017. The event gave attendees an opportunity to fill their toolboxes with ideas and techniques to help them create change when they return to their home institutions.

At the Meetup, Fellows collaborated with Fellows and faculty from different schools in experiential workshops at Stanford’s d.school and Google. They took part in activities such as leadership and creative confidence-building exercises, forming effective and diverse teams, and designing experiences that they’ll host back at their own schools. Topics included movement building, innovation spaces, facilitating learning experiences, and new models for change in higher education.

Throughout the event, attendees were guided by literal superheroes. Twenty-six experienced Fellows (called Fabs, short for “fabulous”) acted as their mentors on superhero-themed teams, facilitated workshops, and gave short talks throughout the event. Every time we hold a Meetup, the UIF team carefully selects Fellows to fill this Fabs role. We wouldn’t be able to run the event without them, and they serve as inspirational role models for the attendees (and for us).

The Fellows learn so much from one another during the Meetup, and they also learn from local educators and thought leaders. At Google, they were hosted on Friday, November 17 by Dr. Frederik Pferdt, Chief Innovation Evangelist, who helped them explore how to build a culture of innovation using design thinking. They learned about moonshot thinking with Emi Kolawole from X and heard from legendary futurist Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering at Google.

  • Sights and sounds of the day: Teams saying “Yes, and….!” and three hundred people cheering on their teammates during our Rock Paper Scissors tournament.

At Stanford on Saturday, November 18, Fellows worked on movement and leadership with Aleta Hayes from Stanford Theater and Performance Studies, public speaking with Dan Klein from Stanford Graduate School of Business, and stokes (warm-up activities) with Tania Anaissie, a former d.school experience designer. In the evening, they took part in an unconference, where the Fellows (rather than the event organizers) set the agenda and work in groups around topics of interest.

  • Sights and sounds of the day: Fellows sharing their ideas on the stage during the unconference, and singing “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys (video is from last year’s Meetup — we were too busy singing along to take a video this year).

Sunday was our big birthday celebration, nicknamed ui5. Nearly 100 previously-trained Fellows came back to Stanford to join us for a series of music design challenges sponsored by musicians and their foundations, with mentorship by local industry leaders.

Fellows got pumped up for the day with a performance by Stanford Taiko drummers and a talk by Ge Wang, a professor in Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. They sat in on a panel chat with Pandora’s Chief Product Officer Chris Phillips and Grammy Award-winning artist Grace Weber. At the end of the day, Grace Weber and her band performed for the enthusiastic crowd, and Fellows rushed the stage to sing along, dance, and pose for a full-auditorium selfie with the singer.

But the day didn’t end there. It wouldn’t be a Meetup without a dance party at the d.school. Fellows, music industry executives and artists all enjoyed an evening of music, dance, and delicious eats from area food trucks. The Fellows shared a video they had made to celebrate our birthday. At one point, they carefully carried a giant chocolate birthday cake with five lit candles through the d.school atrium, and we blew out the candles surrounded by a cheering crowd. Read more about the ui5 event here.

  • Sights and sounds of the day: Powerful beats from the Stanford Taiko drummers, Grace Wang, and UIF’s own DJ Bradley Dice; and music (digital, sung and played) pulsing from every corner of the d.school during the design challenge.

On Monday, Fellows worked in teams on projects to be implemented at their schools, with an eye towards engagement and inclusion. Lily Zheng from Stanford’s Diversity and First-Gen Students (DGEN) and Fellow Nadia Gathers led an activity to bring inclusion into focus. The end of the Meetup is always emotional. After closing with our traditional paper airplanes activity — in which attendees write something they learned on a piece of colored paper and make it fly — the room is always filled with hugs, selfies and tears.

  • Sights and sounds of the day: Cheers as a flurry of colorful paper airplanes filled the air, promises to stay in touch and collaborate as Fellows prepared to travel back to their schools around the world.

The momentum carries on after the Meetup, and many Fellows have already held activities in the last few weeks. For example, Fellows at Utah Valley University hosted their second 20,000 Passions event inspired by a similar Fellows event at the University of Delaware; Fellow Vincent Arena created a networking database to share passions and projects in our community; Fellows at City College New York held a public idea-sharing event; and a group of Fellows from India facilitated a well-received design thinking workshop at Google Developer Days in Bangalore.

On our closed UIF Facebook group, Fellows shared their favorite moments from the Meetup:

  • “Every moment had its impact on me, whether it was a conference, workshop, brainstorming, inspirational walk or casual moments with friends. I enjoyed the more casual moments because there’s where I saw that although we had our differences in culture, language, religion or skin color, we all shared one thing — our humanity.” – Gabriel Morales Figueroa, Universidad del Turabo
  • “One of my favorites was the ‘unconference’ session on Saturday night! I just loved seeing everyone collaborate together to develop important ideas. That was really powerful!” – Sean Farrell, Union College
  • “My favorite was every hug, talk and smile that people shared with me that made me feel in the right place. For me, as a graphic designer, it is so difficult thinking about innovation. I have learned it with everyone these week.” – Ale Contreras Westermeyer, Universidad del Desarrollo
  • “Meeting people from all across the world. It gave me a new respect for different cultures and opened my eyes to how important diversity is and how important inclusion is within a group to make an effective team. I also loved how welcome I felt. I felt that I fit in, was never judged and I felt positive energy all around me. I was never so happy and made so many friends I didn’t want it to end.” Cheyenne Raker, Ohio Northern University

The UIF team was so honored to celebrate the fifth anniversary of our program’s founding with such an amazing group of people. We’ve come a long way! We started with 19 Fellows in August 2012, and we now have more than 1,200 around the world. Many of our Fellows know how much our program has evolved these last five years, and how many hurdles we had to jump to get to where we are today.

We do it all for the Fellows. You are making a difference and changing higher education. Unlike most things that fall by the wayside when students graduate, your initiatives continue long after you graduate. And, most importantly, you show faculty, administration and students what’s possible when you empower students to be change agents. You are our friends, our teachers, and our heroes.

We don’t know what the next five years will look like. But we do know that we will continue to help students change the world.

— The UIF team (Leticia, Humera, Katie, Laurie and Ghanashyam)

View the event photo album and video playlist.

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