Students lead peers in educational growth using Innovation Fellows Program

Many school programs allow students to improve their own learning experience.

But with one program, two South Plains College students provide resources to encourage educational growth among their peers.

University Innovation Fellows allows students to initiate change within their college community by providing necessary resources and educational opportunities to other students. Fellows take part in a lot of training and teamwork exercises in order to obtain the skills and knowledge to lead their classmates.

UIF, which was created by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, trains many Fellows from around 200 universities. Recently, two SPC students, Sarah McLean from Waco and Nathan Clayton from Olton, were promoted to full UIF membership after weeks of training.

A lot of work goes into being a UIF member. But starting the application process to become a candidate requires dedication, as only two SPC students are nominated to apply for the program every year.

Photo by Adan Rubio

McLean, a mechanical engineering major, said there were other requirements that needed to be fulfilled for the application.

“After being nominated by faculty, we then had the opportunity to apply,” said McLean. “We filled out a basic application, but that included making videos of ourselves answering questions, like ‘What do we want to see changed in the world?’”

After applying for UIF and being interviewed by a Stanford UIF member, candidates take part in a six-week training period, which consists of online courses and campus projects. During this training, UIF candidates determine what problems need to be solved on campus in order to provide the proper solutions and resources.

Working with SPC students to solve problems on the Levelland campus was a task that McLean and Clayton attempted once their training was complete.

“We both are currently leading SEARCH Club, which is Student Entrepreneurs After Real Change,” explained McLean. “We hosted a workshop to brainstorm problems on our campus with 30 plus-students.”

UIF requires that members focus on the educational and innovative progress of their campus community. Despite completing a few of their intended tasks, McLean and Clayton still have things planned for other SPC students.

Clayton, a computer science major, said that he and McLean want to encourage growth within the SPC community through business-oriented activities.

“We’ve noticed that students in this area aren’t typically ready for business,” Clayton explained. “They’re not ready to formulate their own ideas into an actual business. We’re trying to make the students business-ready by hosting a resume workshop and a LinkedIn workshop.”

Projects such as SEARCH Club and business workshops are opportunities for the Fellows to use skills they acquired through their training. But these are not the only opportunities for the two students to utilize and expand their innovative mindset.

On March 15, the SPC Fellows traveled to Silicon Valley in California for a four-day meetup, which consisted of spending time at Stanford University and the headquarters for Google. During this trip, the Fellows took part in educational group activities and learned about utilizing different methods of thinking.

Dr. Ramesh Krishnan, professor of engineering at SPC, selects UIF candidates and acts as their sponsor through the process. He said there are many learning opportunities that a Fellow will get from this trip and the interactions that take place.

“It’s all about how to change your thinking,” said Krishnan. “The key concept that we talk about in this whole idea of innovation and entrepreneurship is a topic called design thinking. Design thinking is revolutionizing the industry right now and is used to solve any kind of problems for anybody.”

Learning different critical thinking skills, such as design thinking, and being able to leave one’s comfort zone are experiences that Clayton said he received from opportunities, such as the Silicon Valley trip.

“The biggest thing this has helped me with is getting out and talking about things you wouldn’t normally talk about,” said Clayton. “It has taught me a skill of finding out information and finding ways of getting things accomplished.”

Through the UIF program, students learn how to benefit themselves and teach other students within their college community to do the same. Despite the many opportunities they have already received, Clayton and McLean can still benefit from UIF.

Humera Fasihuddin, co-director of the UIF program, said Fellows have access to a wide network of other Fellows and many immediate learning opportunities.

“When you’re in school, you might aspire to become an innovator or entrepreneur in your field after you graduate,” said Fasihuddin. “UIF gives you the permission to become that innovator now.”

The improvement within a Fellow’s college or the educational resources that a Fellow can provide to other students are just a few of the advantages that Fasihuddin said comes from having students involved with UIF.

“Sure, there’s an awesome network, and there’s a cool trip to Stanford,” said Fasihuddin. “But most important of all, Fellows gain practice in being a change agent. They come to realize how a few straightforward actions, over time, can yield game-changing results.”

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