The Pioneering Spirit

Lessons from my UIF experience

By Temitope Ajibola—University Innovation Fellow, Morgan State University

As I sat down to reflect upon my University Innovation Fellows journey, a lot of things came to mind, but one theme that resonated with my entire UIF experience is “the pioneering spirit.”

While I learned a lot from the different aspects of the program and the tools such as design thinking as an element for driving change, it was the UIF Silicon Valley Meetup, particularly the Ignite sessions (TED-style talks), that had the most impact on me. Hearing several Fellows share their passion and how they drove change in their communities ignited something in me, and I took that back to Morgan State University to birth the first-ever student-led hackathon, MorganHacks, that garnered attention even up to the office of the Vice President of the United States of America.

Mind you, my UIF team had launched “Bear Talks,” a signature event to drive conversations around entrepreneurship. I also had a personal vision of an event that could make Morgan State University a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship among other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). I studied how several Ivy League institutions and Predominately White Institutions utilized the hackathon model to drive innovation on their campuses. The impact was as far-reaching as transforming the entire entrepreneurship ecosystem of cities, states, as well as an entire nation. Amazingly small startups grew to become powerhouses contributing massively to global development — one of which is GroupMe, developed in a University of Michigan hackathon, and acquired by Microsoft. I really felt something needed to be done quickly to engage the innovative potential in HBCUs.

“We took risks by venturing into uncharted territory, organizing a large-scale hackathon that had never been done before at our university. And we persevered through the challenges and setbacks, never losing sight of our ultimate goal.”

While the idea seemed daunting at first, I knew that with the pioneering spirit and the support of the UIF community, I could make it happen. Even before the Silicon Valley Meetup, I started tapping into the resources in the UIF community, especially people who had successfully organized hackathons on their campuses, seeking their guidance and support. This was particularly valuable when it was time to form a team because I now had insights into the type of people needed on the team and the best way to lead the team in order to obtain maximum results. Shortly after, we started working tirelessly to bring this vision to life.

The challenges were many. Securing funding, finding sponsors, coordinating logistics, and marketing the event were just a few of the hurdles we had to overcome. But with each obstacle, we found innovative solutions and pushed forward. We held countless meetings, developed a comprehensive plan, and rallied support from faculty, administrators, and corporate entities. Slowly but surely, the pieces started falling into place.

About a week before the hackathon, I attended the UIF Meetup; I was completely tired and needed every form of encouragement to carry on. I remember quickly leaving the last Ignite session to have a meeting with my team. It was there I began transferring the energy from the Meetup to my team members. Finally, the day of the hackathon arrived, and out of 300 students that we expected, we were able to gather 65 students from 8 universities in the United States (Morgan State University, Stevens Institute of Technology, Howard University, Bowie State University, Goucher College, Johns Hopkins, Maryland University and Coppin State University) and 1 university in India (Jaypee University of Engineering and Technology); and they all gathered at Morgan State University, ready to showcase their skills and creativity. The atmosphere was electric, filled with excitement and anticipation. It was a true testament to the power of collaboration and the potential within diverse communities.

Photo by Morgan State University

Throughout the event, I couldn’t help but think about the words of Ibn al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, who once wrote, “Success comes to those who dare to dream, to take risks, and to persevere.” This quote resonated with me deeply as I witnessed the impact of our pioneering spirit. We dared to dream of creating a platform for innovation and entrepreneurship in an HBCU where similar experiences were not readily available. We took risks by venturing into uncharted territory, organizing a large-scale hackathon that had never been done before at our university. And we persevered through the challenges and setbacks, never losing sight of our ultimate goal.

Looking back on my University Innovation Fellows journey, I am filled with gratitude for the experiences and lessons it has brought me. I learned the importance of dreaming big, taking risks, and never underestimating the power of collaboration. The pioneering spirit is not limited to any particular field or industry—it is a mindset that can be applied to any endeavor, big or small.

As I continue on my path, I carry the lessons from my UIF experience with me. I am committed to embodying the pioneering spirit and using it to create positive change in my community and beyond. And I encourage others to do the same, for it is through our collective efforts that we can truly make a difference.

The original article can be found in the Helping Students Engage and Lead section of the 2022-2023 Change Forward Journal— Visions and Voices of Higher Education’s Future.

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