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Stanford program inspiring OHIO students to be the change

Published: December 17, 2019 Author: Alaina Bartel

At Ohio University, we know students can change the world. We’ve seen them in action.

Through inspiring ideas developed through the Stanford University Innovation Fellows (UIF) program, with guidance from OHIO’s Center for Entrepreneurship, several OHIO students and alumni have had an immense and lasting impact on the University. 

This year is the fourth year in a row that OHIO has had two students selected for the prestigious program. UIF is run by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school), and has trained more than 2,200 students at 267 global institutions to become agents of change at their schools. 

According to the UIF program, fellows create student innovation spaces, start entrepreneurship organizations, facilitate experiential workshops, work with faculty and administrators to develop new courses, and much more. They serve as advocates for lasting institutional change with academic leaders, lending the much-needed student voice to the conversations about the future of higher education. 

The program led to OHIO’s CoLab being created by two students, now alumni, who had just completed their training as University Innovation Fellows. Alex Kneier and Lori Bentz set out with a mission to create a space that brings people together through creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

OHIO students use the new CoLab space in Alden Library. The CoLab was designed as a physical hub for student innovation and entrepreneurship activites across campus. Photo: Ben Siegel
Students use the CoLab space in Alden Library. CoLab was designed for student innovation across OHIO. Photo: Ben Siegel

“Teaching students about innovation and effecting positive changes can not only lead to successful new local businesses but improvements in the students’ lives here at OHIO and to the institution itself,” said Paul Mass, executive director of OHIO’s Center for Entrepreneurship.

“We need to identify and help any student with an interest or curiosity in entrepreneurship and innovation and we need to guide them as they pursue these aspirations," he continued. "The Center does that and the UIF program does that.” 

The CoLab occupied several cohorts of fellows, including 2016 fellow and 2019 OHIO graduate Faith Voinovich. During training, she worked co-fellow Ben Scott to identify all of the existing innovative resources at OHIO, including regional campuses and in communities, and found out how incredible these spaces and programs were in their own right — but also how disconnected. 

After training, she worked on the CoLab idea to win their first $16,000 grant from the University to complete best practice studies on other innovative and creative spaces at universities across the U.S. Their team toured spaces at Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Babson, University of Utah and Stanford to learn about what made spaces successful and what could have been done better. 

The next step was to compile this research into a usable resource for their team and validate it through student surveys and focus groups of various OHIO stakeholders. Then, they worked to raise over $1 million to build a physical space on campus that encompassed all these learnings. CoLab officially opened in fall 2018, Voinovich’s senior year, and has continued to serve students since then.

“The UIF program encourages students to think big, take ‘moonshots,’ and believe in their power as a change agent,” Voinovich explained. “That kind of culture is contagious in the best way and spurs innovation and creativity that will benefit Ohio University as it continues to evolve its approach to providing an excellent experiential learning experience. I loved being in a room with people across the spectrum from ‘big thinkers’ to ‘detail-oriented doers,’ all passionate about adding value to their universities, their states/nations, and the world. The level of energy and excitement was nearly tangible all through the Silicon Valley meetup, and the support even just through the online network is staggering.”

Faith Voinovich, center, attends the grand opening of Ohio University’s CoLab on Oct. 18, 2018. Photo: Stephen Zenner
Faith Voinovich, center, attends the grand opening of Ohio University’s CoLab on Oct. 18, 2018. Photo: Stephen Zenner

Fellows are supported by both UIF leadership and OHIO’s Center for Entrepreneurship. The Center has chosen to sponsor the tuition of up to four fellow nominations each year, and to act as faculty advisors to the candidates accepted into the program, according to Mass and Paul Benedict, associate director of the Center. They’ve done that subsequently with last year’s fellows, Audrey Bull and Ed Drabold, and this year’s fellows, Dillon Mahr and Claire McGee. 

Mass hopes more students learn about the program and the wonderful learning experience it provides. He believes some of their creative ideas will result in other innovative changes at OHIO. 

“I enjoy helping to identify appropriate candidates for the UIF program; assist in their application process; and support their efforts to change things for the better here at OU,” Mass noted. “This is why I decided to teach and help build a Center after a career as a lawyer and entrepreneur:  I want to work with young students and innovators to see what cool new important ideas they can come up with that reflect their perception of needs or problems are and what possible solutions are.  The UIF program simply directs these efforts to on-campus change.” 

In addition to the CoLab, other cohorts of University Innovation Fellows have thought up some pretty big ideas to enhance the academic experience at Ohio University. Last year, Bull and Drabold laid the groundwork for a freshman class that would inspire freshman by hearing OHIO alumni and other speakers. 

 

The newest cohort of fellows, Mahr and McGee, hope to empower students to think creatively about issues in society, and expose them to design thinking and how it’s relevant to them no matter their major. 

“We are currently working with people from University College to discuss the potential of introducing design thinking and innovation at orientation and then bringing this thought process into the Learning Community space,” said McGee, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences studying public health and Spanish. “We are hoping to encourage design thinking in all majors and disciplines, so we thought these spaces would be our best bet.”

Mahr, a junior in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology studying electrical engineering, said OHIO has been trememdous through the entire process and has helped him realized that innovation and entrepreneurship are subjects he is passionate about. 

“Being a University Innovation Fellow will greatly shape my both my life in and outside of school,” he added. “I am now equipped with the skills and resources that will allow me to make an impact at Ohio University. I hope to use these skills and resources to create spaces that inspire younger students to be agents of change.”

Claire McGee and Dillon Mahr, who were recently named Stanford University Innovation Fellows, pose for a photo in OHIO’s CoLab. Photo: Ben Siegel
Claire McGee and Dillon Mahr, who were recently named Stanford University Innovation Fellows. Photo: Ben Siegel

For those considering the UIF program, but who haven’t given much thought to innovation or entrepreneurship, McGee was in a similar situation. She always assumed that innovation and entrepreneurship were only tied to business or engineering majors, which isn’t the case. 

After going through the UIF application and training process, she learned how innovation and entrepreneurship extend far beyond a business model.  

“It is a way of thinking that can be directly tied to things that I am passionate about — health, global development, and making a difference in my community,” she explained. “So, moving forward, I am interested in working with people in the health field that share this mindset and being a disruptive force in organizations or companies that don't.”

For more information about the University Innovation Fellows program and how OHIO can support students, please contact Paul Mass at Center for Entrepreneurship at mass@ohio.edu. For more details about the impact the program has had on OHIO, visit this link

“I truly cannot express how grateful I am,” McGee said. “Stanford University Innovation Fellows has changed the way I think about myself, my eduction, and my career goals. I am so excited for the future and to combine what I have learned in this program and at Ohio University to make a difference in the world.”