University Innovation Fellows program uses design to create change

As much as some people might love the scooters littering downtown's sidewalks, others aren't so thrilled. IUPUI University Innovation fellows have accepted the challenge of rethinking the system to create change and benefit everyone in the community.

Six students were celebrated as "launched University Innovation fellows" at a pinning ceremony Nov. 16. The University Innovation Fellows program is run by the "d.school" at Stanford University, which is dedicated to empowering students to become leaders and make changes on their campuses through design thinking. Currently, 358 students from 96 higher education institutions in 16 countries are participating in the program.

Among those inducted into the program are Maria Meschi, a graduate student in visual communication design; electrical engineering junior Raj Dhavalikar; mechanical engineering junior Pratik Rath and senior Stephen Hamori; informatics student Brendan Bow; and Nyssa Wedgeworth, a sophomore studying Spanish and American Sign Language with English interpreting.

Six new University Innovation Fellows receive pins.View print quality image
The University Innovation fellows received a pin from Chancellor Nasser Paydar on Nov. 16 and celebrated in IDEA fellows T-shirts. From left: Maria Meschi, Stephen Hamori, Raj Dhavalikar, Pratik Rath, Nyssa Wedgeworth and Brendan Bow. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

Youngbok Hong, faculty advisor for the IUPUI University Innovation fellows and director of the graduate program in visual communication design at the Herron School of Art and Design, said this program aims to nurture students to be agents of change and to develop the campus culture from the students' perspective through design thinking.

"Cultivating a culture of innovation and creativity has been one of the major university initiatives," Hong said. "IUPUI truly values and supports student voices in developing this campus's culture, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research has been instrumental in forming a student community on campus through its sponsorship."

Through her role as a connector, Hong and participating students have developed a series of action research projects to make changes on campus that align with IUPUI's strategic goals.

With Meschi as lead, last year's University Innovation fellows conducted research aiming to understand IUPUI students' needs and desires around innovation in Hong's action research course. Many solutions for student innovation were born from the conducted research, including monthly design thinking workshops; a student organization named IDEA fellows, which stands for innovation, design, entrepreneurship and action; and an interdisciplinary innovation minor. The program also resulted in a campuswide event called the Open Innovation Sprint, which is set for Nov. 30 and is open to students from all over campus to learn about design thinking by developing ideas to improve the scooter system downtown. Participating students will get the chance to see how design thinking applies to a complex issue and how solutions can emerge to benefit everyone.

The IDEA fellows group is the consolidated student organization of existing student groups interested in innovation and entrepreneurship on campus.

New University Innovation Fellows prepare for their first event.View print quality image
Three new University Innovation fellows prepare for the Open Innovation Sprint scheduled for Friday, Nov. 30. Photo by Tim Brouk, Indiana University

Rath, who is head of marketing for the University Innovation fellows, explained the significance of the program for the campus.

"IUPUI as a university has students from 144 different countries who can bring enormous amounts of experience and viewpoints to anything they're working on," Rath said. "UIF gives us the platform to positively collaborate with students from these varied backgrounds, which we can use as an asset to take our university to a new level and height. The different between us and other universities is that we have the potential -- we just need to start talking and creating dialogue."

Dhavalikar agreed with Rath and shared how the fellows want to contribute to this progress at IUPUI.

"I believe that's where we jump in," Dhavalikar said. "Students have so many ideas they want to bring into existence, but they just talk about it and are done. Providing the right knowledge and ability is something this program taught us how to do, and we want to share it with others."