Mechanical Engineering sophomores Lauren Atkins and Albert Tebbetts have completed training to join the University Innovation Fellows, a global program run by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design that empowers student leaders to increase campus engagement with innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity and design thinking. This year, 224 students from 58 higher education institutions in seven countries became part of this program, which equips students to become agents of change at their schools. Fellows work to ensure that their peers gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to compete in the economy of the future and make a positive impact on the world.
To accomplish this, each Fellow establishes strategic priorities that advocate for lasting institutional change, such as designing innovation spaces, starting entrepreneurship organizations, hosting experiential learning events and working with faculty to develop new courses. For spring 2017, Lauren and Al proposed the idea of pop-up classes in Villanova’s Idea Accelerator, part of the ICE—Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship—Institute. After learning that many students feel they lack certain technical skills, Lauren and Albert decided to offer free workshops on Matlab, Solidworks, 3-D printing and coding, which graduate students and faculty volunteered to teach. Their hope is that pop-up classes will become regularly scheduled events in the next academic year and that additional topics of interest will be added.
Lauren has found the UI Fellows experience incredibly rewarding, “From the start, Al and I were given the opportunity to talk to people who are killing it in the innovation world, and it was awesome to get tips on how they were able to do what they're doing, from start to finish.” She says she looks forward to building a network “of some of the most resourceful and forward thinking young minds of our time.”
The networking aspects of the program also appeal to Al, who says, “One of the best ways to learn is to simply talk to other people and hear their stories.” When asked why innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity and design thinking are important skills for today’s students, he explains, “The problems our generation is faced with are constantly changing and highly complex…This is an excellent skillset when trying to accomplish a task.”
Villanova began participating in the UI Fellows program in 2014 with Engineering Entrepreneurship Director Ed Dougherty spearheading the University’s involvement. Fellows are selected through an application process twice annually, after which schools fund the students to go through six weeks of online training and travel to the annual University Innovation Fellows Silicon Valley Meetup. Throughout the year, they take part in events and conferences and have opportunities to learn from one another, Stanford mentors, and leaders in academia and industry.
“During their training, Fellows learn how to analyze their campus innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems and understand the needs of stakeholders with the goal of uncovering opportunities to enrich the educational opportunities for their peers,” says Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, co-director of the University Innovation Fellows program. “They utilize frameworks like Design Thinking and Lean Startup to bring their ideas to life and work with peers from different backgrounds and disciplines.”
“The core belief of our program is that students can be partners with faculty and administrators to help lead change in higher education,” said Humera Fasihuddin, co-director of the University Innovation Fellows program. “When we empower students to be the co-designers of the education experience, they create a better educational environment for others as well as themselves. Fellows grow as change agents in the process, and their peers benefit from an increased number of resources that expose them to skillsets and mindsets essential to the 21st century economy.”