Innovation Fellows Become University Change Agents

Maia Peterson and Roohi Katarya

Stanford’s University Innovation Fellows (UIF) program empowers students from around the world to become agents of change in higher education. Open to students of all majors and academic levels, participants attend rigorous training sessions on entrepreneurship and innovation and spearhead initiatives to improve their own schools.

The University of Minnesota has five students currently enrolled in the program, including two College of Design students, Maia Peterson (Architecture) and Roohi Katarya (Product Design). Peterson and Katarya discuss the program, their projects, and what they’ve learned so far in this interview.

What is the primary purpose of the University Innovation Fellows program?

Peterson: “The main purpose of the program is to bring together students from around the world and to give them the tools to enact change. The UIF program runs students through a 6-8 week online training on how to be a ‘change agent.’ The culmination of this is a meet-up in Silicon Valley where they do more training and hold experiential learning workshops. The goal is for students to bring back all of that knowledge and experience to their own campus and to then propose a larger project or a handful of mini projects to execute on campus that promotes innovation and entrepreneurship.”

How did you get involved with the program?

Katarya: “A previous fellow nominated Maia and I to attend a small informational meeting. Following that meeting, we had to apply to the University’s cohort. Once we were accepted to the University’s cohort, we had to apply to the actual fellowship and then we were accepted into the program officially.”

What is your overarching project?

Katarya: “We haven’t officially selected our project yet, but the idea we are most excited about is figuring out a way to get freshmen involved in innovation and entrepreneurship right when they start school.”

Peterson: “Another need that we identified was that as a research institution we have a lot of research and ideation going on but during the spin-out phase things start to fall off. We have two other people in our cohort who are both engineering majors and I think they are a little more interested in developing some sort of way to address the lack of spin-out resources. That’s one of the perks of the fellowship, we don’t necessarily need to be working on the same project, we can do multiple things and that’s kind of exciting.”

What have you enjoyed so far about the program?

Katarya: “For me, it’s been going and learning about all of the resources the University has to offer. It gives me more ideas about what’s lacking and what changes need to be made. I also think it’s really cool to see everyone coming in from different backgrounds and using the program in different ways.”

Peterson: “My favorite part has been meeting all of the different fellows. It’s very inspiring to go out to Stanford’s d.school and see everyone. All of the fellows are doing really cool things. It’s a very, very diverse group of people.”

What would you like your peers to know about the program and your project?

Peterson: “I’d like them to know that they shouldn’t be discouraged if they’re not a fellow. The fellowship gives you tools and resources and a network but one of the things that I’ve found and that I took away from the conference was that really you just need the right people and you can do anything.”

Katarya: “I think that anyone is capable of changing things at the U. The biggest thing is finding out who to talk to, finding a few friends to help you with it and doing it. I think we have such an advantage as students to make a change: there are a lot of levers we can pull.”

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