New! Alumni Network

Today we are thrilled to share an exciting development that marks a significant milestone for our community. A group of early-career UIF are leading the charge in forming an alumni network to address the ongoing needs, interests, and learning opportunities of Fellows who are now in their careers. We have been working with this group since 2022, sponsoring the Connected Futures Forum convening in D.C. with alums who helped shape this effort. Our alumni are in well-placed, strategic positions throughout the globe and represent unparalleled levels of impact and opportunity. We urge you to join this initiative at an early juncture to help shape this valuable resource. See below for details and sign up for the Town Hall.

With love, 

Humera, Leticia, Catherine, Ghanashyam & Laurie.


Introducing The Official UIF Alumni Network: Help Shape It’s Formation

TL;DR: Alumni assemble! A UIF Alumni Network is forming and needs your input. The initiative is independent of, but collaborative with the Our next steps over the coming months are to hear what’s happened to date, determine governance, and flesh out the initial workplan. Everything that follows is our hypothesis of what an Alumni organization would look like and do, but we need you to attend Townhall #1: What’s Happened to Date to help shape the strategy!

As we say, “Once a Fellow, always a Fellow” – so why should our passion for changemaking and connecting with kindred spirits be relegated to our university careers? It shouldn’t!

As a valued member of the UIFam, you are part of a vibrant and diverse network of professionals committed to making a difference. After years of requests from Fellows, the day has finally come: the formation of the UIF Alumni Network, dedicated to fostering impact and nurturing our network.

This collective effort has been years in the making, and is a response to the overwhelming desire of Fellows to keep the energy available and alive as you journey into the professional world.

Our Vision and Mission

The UIF Alumni Network is rooted in the belief that design has the power to transform societies and create a better future. Our mission is to:

  • Enhance Impact: Support initiatives that drive meaningful change through design.
  • Build Community: Strengthen connections among alumni and current Fellows, facilitating collaboration, mentorship, and growth.
  • Promote Learning: Offer continuous learning opportunities to keep our community at the forefront of design innovation, both in their personal and professional lives.
  • Embrace Belonging: Promote an empathy-driven world that prioritizes inclusive practices. 

Again, these are all hypotheses. Come to Townhall #1 to help shape strategy.

Join Us in This Exciting Journey

We are just getting started, and your involvement is key to the network’s success. Stay tuned for more updates, including upcoming events and opportunities to engage with The UIF Alumni Network. Here are some ways to get involved:

  • Join one of the Town Halls on February 27th or March 3rd (virtual)
  • Get involved on teams: Participate in our initial teams to help shape the network
  • Sign up to stay informed: Don’t miss out on early updates and upcoming enrollment
  • Attend upcoming events: Attend exclusive events to connect with fellow alumni and industry leaders.

Feel free to reach out to with any ideas, questions, or if you wish to play a more active role in the network. Or contact Vincent by phone, text, or WhatsApp at 516-286-0002. Alternatively, feel free to reach out to Humera by phone or text for context from the UIF Team, 413-222-5400.

We are excited to hear from you,

Vincent Arena, Jackie Curtsinger, Dominic Gelfuso, Daniel Kleinman, Mahmoud Khedr, Nariman Gathers, Caro Vassallucci, Raneem Elsayed, Rachel Tate, Forrest Satterfield, Gerrit Olbert, KC Christopher, Bre Przestrzelski, Jade Garrett, Jonathan Puhl, Kenneth Brewer, RJ Lualhati, Tommy Clifton, Omri Gal, Christian Weiss, Dinesh Chintapalli,… and many many others.

A New Vision for Higher Ed in Thailand

Innovative Teaching Scholars Program Helps Thai Professors Unlock the Power of Student-Centric Learning

by LaRissa Lawrie, University Innovation Fellow
Wichita State University ’19; University of Missouri, PhD student

Thai professors are reimagining university education. They are on a mission to empower their students to be creative and purposeful leaders in an innovation-based economy. National technological and education strategies, like Thailand 4.0, are creating industrial and digital transformations in Thailand. 

The Innovative Teaching Scholars (ITS) program helps educators explore new ways of teaching in order to equip students with 21st century skills for the economy of the future. The first cohort of ITS scholars received training in pedagogy from Stanford University from September 2020 through June 2021. The inaugural class of 50 professors have generated activities that are already giving their students new opportunities like practicing deep listening and improving their problem finding skills.

The ITS program is run by the Stanford Center for Professional Development (SCPD) and the University Innovation Fellows (UIF) program of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design ( The Stanford Thailand Research Consortium (STRC) supports the program at no cost to participating Scholars or their universities. The UIF team designed and created the ITS program based on the Teaching and Learning Studio workshop series.  

The scholars point to “the future” as part of an activity exploring ambiguity

A member of the teaching team, Leticia Britos Cavagnaro Ph.D., who co-directs the University Innovation Fellows Program, emphasized that the ITS program is learner-focused. “The program is designed around helping the cohort of scholars develop and grow as a ‘Community of Practice’ around teaching and learning,” said Cavagnaro. “Participants do deep dives into six pedagogical levers and explore how each lever can be activated to create new learning experiences or modify existing ones. The goal is for participants to become a reference and resource for other educators.“

There were two stages of the program. The first stage of the program was a fully interactive, “minds-on” experience. Scholars attend 9 weeks of virtual training, workshops, and activities. They had access to dedicated coaching in small groups and completed self-paced pedagogical experiments to improve their own courses. Stage one culminated in an open house where participants shared their projects with other educators, as well as university and industry leaders. Some examples of projects include spaces for creative teaching and learning, real-world challenges to engage students, and faculty professional development opportunities. 

The second stage focused on building a community of practice through deepening their connections with one another and their expertise as innovative educators. During the second stage, scholars met as a cohort and in small peer groups with the dedicated support of a coach from Stanford. Scholars shared goals for their teaching and community. They also worked with fellow colleagues to overcome challenges in their teaching practice. Examples of this community of practice can be seen in scholars’ articles on Medium.  

Timeline of the program activities (click to view larger)

A unique aspect of the ITS program is the research component. In tandem with the teaching team, the program also has a research team that measures and analyses whether the program is meeting its goals. Preliminary analyses show that the program has had a positive impact. The majority of the ITS scholars felt that the program met or exceeded their expectations. Many noted that their views of teaching became much more focused on learners. 

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many courses were moved online. The ITS program provided scholars with coaching through the transitions from in-person to remote teaching and strategies for creating successful remote learning experiences. One idea being “ambidextrous teaching,” the ability to teach a high-quality engaging class both in-person and online.

ITS scholar, Warinya Chemnasiri Ph.D., the Program Director in Integrated Innovation at the Chulalongkorn School of Integrated Innovation, is focused on giving her students hands-on opportunities even with online teaching. Chemnasiri developed a module on Nearpod that walked her students through the experimental process of creating an alternative meat from insects. The students all remotely followed the Nearpod module synchronously in their own homes while Chemnasiri was available to answer any questions. “I tried to find a way to let students experience and learn hands-on, even when they are at home and not in class,” said Chemnasiri. 

Scholar Warinya Chemnasiri shared her food-based class as a news article during an ITS program activity

“When I joined the program at the beginning my expectation was for there to be some workshops and I’ll learn a few things. I didn’t know we were really going to dig deep; I didn’t know that there would be tools, concepts, the dashboard – it’s really interactive,” Chemnasiri said. “I saw and heard a lot about the new way of teaching but when I got to experience it for myself, it’s really incredible.” 

The program helped scholars investigate the “why” behind their course to prepare them to continue teaching regardless of the structure. Scholars also focused on developing curricula and content around their “North Star” or aspirational objective for their learners. 

Another scholar, Warapark Maitreephun Ph.D. focused on active over passive learning as a method and the socioeconomic implications. He helps run the Prince of Songkla University’s Principal Preparation program where teachers train to become administrators (principals) in primary schools mainly in rural areas of Thailand. 

Students build and launch paper airplanes during a class with scholar Warapark Maitreephun.

Maitreephun implemented a project based on the Emoto Peace project that seeks to actively teach educators about positive communication. “If I teach a principal to use a new piece of technology and then that principal promotes that technology to teachers then it reduces the gap between students from rural areas and city areas,” Maitreephun said. “That’s why I’m interested in the ‘how’ I teach and improving the way I teach prospective school leaders.” 

“What I teach will impact the school, school leaders, the students and their worlds,” Maitreephun said. “I want to pass the opportunity of the ITS program on to my students and their students and on.”

LaRissa Lawrie is a freelance journalist and writer. She’s currently getting her Ph.D. in Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism. LaRissa is a Spring 2016 University Innovation Fellow and a 2019 Venture for America Fellow. Follow her on Twitter: @lawriecreative.

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 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; 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’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!

Cal Poly Freshman and Dublin High School Alum Nicholas Sinai Selected as Prestigious University Innovation Fellow

University Innovation Fellow, Nicholas Sinai, is recognized by his high school (Dublin High School) for his entrepreneurial pursuits at Cal Poly University San Luis Obispo during his freshman year. His past teachers and family provide an amazing insight into the type of person Nicholas is, and we couldn’t agree more. Keep up the great work Nicholas!

Innovation and Determination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Young-Ju and Atin measuring wheel placements

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

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


Team members attach a frame to a trash can

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

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


Seven of the completed trash cans

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

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


The final assembly team poses after finishing all eight trash cans

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

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

Manifesto: We Believe Students Can Change The World

Fellows are boldly proclaiming that all peers across campus should engage in innovation, entrepreneurship, design thinking and creativity as a means to make a difference in the world and enhance every individual’s potential leadership abilities. They are declaring this to be a movement. Inspired by a deeper calling to advance their campus innovation ecosystem and strengthen the future economic prospects for their peers on campus, Fellows have put forth this Manifesto as rallying cry for others, across organizations and academic disciplines, to join them in this cause.

Essential Reads for Engineers and their Peers

By Elliot Roth

This is a list compiled by the University Innovation Fellows of life-changing books. Each is a wonderful exposition into different facets of innovation and entrepreneurship. I’ve been working my way through this list, and have learned amazing lessons that have changed my perception on innovation, creativity, leadership and my journey as a student entrepreneur.

IMG_9177By Elliot Roth is a Junior in Biomedical Engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University. His interests are myriad and include slam poetry, music, international jewel thievery, being an EMT, and writing incredible articles as a Student Ambassador. You can reach him at and follow him on twitter @rothet

The Innovator Education Paradox

By Sean Newman Maroni


We all know that the education system is imperfect.

In order to remain competitive in the global economy, American schools must better prepare our youth for the business challenges they will face. Specifically, schools must teach students to be problem solvers who can use their natural creativity and their education to produce new innovations.

To come up with a revolutionary new idea, you need the gift of creativity, and a deep understanding of the fundamental principals of the world we live in. While our school system is sometimes successful in teaching students these principals, it’s done by sacrificing creativity.

To create an obedient workforce for the industrial revolution era factories, our schools promoted conformity at every opportunity. To this day, we still sit our kids in orderly rows, schedule their days with a bell system, force them to memorize facts, and punish wrong answers.

By the time we are 21, this system has squished the natural creativity right out of us.

202772_10151180943575449_148356248_o-1024x617This was alarmingly obvious to me in college when as part of an entrepreneurship group I build a giant whiteboard designed to encourage passersby to scribble a creative idea.

I found that very often getting a peer to write a genuine idea in this public way was like pulling teeth. They would default to saying things like “I’m not creative…” and would sign their name and walk away.

Everyone is creative, but we’ve been conditioned to think otherwise.

It is this education at the expense of creativity that is the problem. Potentially innovative thought requires both. No creativity, and one cannot connect existing ideas in a novel way. No education, and the novel connections will be too trivial to be useful.

The Innovation Education Paradox, Sean Maroni

We must break out of this trap. We need to ditch the bells, the desks, the dense textbooks with answers in the back, and we need to stop medicating the curiosity from our kids. Currently innovation occurs in spite of our system, let’s make it happen because of the system.


Sean Newman Maroni is a senior in mechanical engineering at North Carolina State University. He is a Student Ambassador and the co-founder of BetaVersity, a startup specializing in building and supporting innovation ecosystems (see our blog post on it here). Sean can be reached at, and can be found writing about the amplification of human potential at (reprinted by permission).

Welcome to the brand new home of the University Innovation Fellows Program!

new*** NOW ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR FALL TRAINING: We are searching for 27 University Innovation Fellows to join current team of 33. Deadline for Fall Training is September 16th. APPLY NOW. ***

Welcome to the brand new home of the University Innovation Fellows Program! So much has changed, where to we begin? Let’s start from the top:

  • First, the name University Innovation Fellows (UI Fellow) refers to the students who we train and groom to lead the movement on their campuses. This retires the name that gave us our start back in 2010, the Student Ambassadors Program… no offense to all you other Student Ambassadors out there, there are just way too many of you representing anything from software to consumer products. We wanted a name that conveyed the leadership qualities our students embody and conveys the prestige that comes with it. The new name also says a little bit more about what they do, which is to work to enhance the innovation ecosystem on campus. Learn more.
  • We are excited to announce that our application for Fall Training is now live! We are seeking 27 bright new students to join our team of 33 to bring us to 60 University Innovation Fellows for the 2013-2014 academic year. Learn more about the advantages of becoming a UI Fellow and of having one on your campus here.
  • Next, the new website address … University Innovation Fellows are inspiring students to ‘Dream. Design. Deliver.’ new solutions to the world around them. This is a call for engineers and their interdisciplinary peers to think creatively, invent and adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. So, if your campus is selected to have a University Innovation Fellow, you’ll likely see cool-looking students sporting fabulous T-shirts that urge students on campus to ‘Dream. Design. Deliver.’ along with them in a movement that will sweep their campus and the nation.
  • Finally, you’ll notice a lot of great new content written by University Innovation Fellows. These from-the-trenches perspectives on catalyzing student innovation on campus, tools and resources that hone the entrepreneurial mindset and examples of institutional change. This is the place you’ll learn how the actions of two students and their team helped land $20 million to fund a design institute. You’ll hear one University Innovation Fellow strategy of creating something every day to hone his creativity skills. And occasionally other contributors, from staff to students at large, will share lists of seed funding sources or free online courses that strengthen your innovation skills. You’ll want to make sure you follow this blog by email so you don’t miss anything. Just follow the link on our home page and make it so.

We’re really excited about some important enhancements to the University Innovation Fellows program and the plans in place for the year ahead! You’ll see a lot more coming from us in the next few months. We want this movement to bring together campus changemakers. Innovation and the entrepreneurial mindset are the way forward for us personally and as a nation and it will take ALL OF US pulling in the same direction to make it happen. Join us, either as a University Innovation Fellow or join us as a collaborator. We would love make students aware of the opportunities, resources and tools you offer to help strengthen the campus ecosystem. Join us!

You can contact me at humera at nciia dot org or post your comments below!

~ Humera Fasihuddin, @ihumera

Senior Program Officer, University Innovation Fellows.

*** NOW ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR FALL TRAINING: We are searching for 27 University Innovation Fellows to join current team of 33. Deadline for Fall Training is September 16th. APPLY NOW. ***

Redefining the University & Entrepreneur’s Definition of Innovation.

When you google innovation, the definition pops up as “the introduction of something new” or “a new idea, method, or device.” Sure. But I see the NCIIA as able to challenge students to truly innovate. To take their freedom at academia and imagine the non-existing, mess around and see what happens, or apply two polar opposites in the same thought.

Today, we’re seeing lots of new products and ideas- but many are combinations of preexisting ideas with a twist or an existing application tried in a new environment.

As an Ambassador, my NCIIA Invention to Venture event will have an opening night called NYU Ambition. I’m out to reawaken and engage dreamers- students with ideas that society might make them feel are unrealistic or too hard to accomplish.

My goal this year is to ignite discussion and better understanding of the definition of innovation and how our University is faring from all angles…while simultaneously providing students the resources to take action and get rolling.

Vivek Wadhma recently tweeted something I agree with…

So how about we start considering innovation as the unknown- and allow ourselves to reach for it? I will be contemplating and working to initiate more ways for schools, governments, and businesses to provide more fertile grounds for innovation.

And if you’re still worried about Silicon Valley having it all, this chunk from Fred Wilson’s blog should ease your worries and inspire you:

“The entire world is now a rival to Silicon Valley. No country, state, region, nor city has a lock on innovation in technology anymore. The Internet has made this so and there’s no going back. We will see Apples and Facebooks get build in China, India, Brazil, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and plenty of other places.”

But please, spread the word that technology is not limited to internet startups,  that Universities are the place to experiment and start research or a company because of the freedom, support and resources available, and lastly- that you don’t need to be in or near a “hub-” you can start your own overnight!

Samantha Smith