JMU Engineering students engage with innovation and the world

Engineering students and faculty gathered around table at Google

SUMMARY: JMU engineering students and faculty participate in UIF, a program led by Stanford University to empower students from 216 institutions around the world to create positive change on their campuses.

By Caleb Ayers

Engineering students Mark Livingston (’19), Cameron Robinson (’19), Caroline Clay (’20), and Brandon Duda (’21), along with faculty champions Justin Henriques and Kurt Paterson, have launched their year as 2018 University Innovation Fellows (UIF).  This is the fifth year that JMU engineers have participated in UIF, a program led by Stanford University to empower students from 216 institutions around the world to create positive change on their campuses. “They inspire you to do big things, and they give you the tools that you need to do big things,” said Clay.

“UIF was a natural collaboration for us to join, both from content and cultural perspectives,” said Paterson, the head of the engineering department. “For students who embrace the experience fully, they approach their work and life very differently, seeing both as rich landscapes for creating value,” he added.

After the initial application process and a six-week, online training through the Stanford d.School, the group visited Stanford University for four days in March. In addition to the fifteen-hour days of workshops at the d.School with other students from around the world, the group was able to visit Google for trainings by some of their executives.

Students listening to presentation by Google Executive

The group returned to JMU with the challenge of spreading what they learned by leading innovation workshops, both at JMU and in the community. They led workshops for a variety of groups, including fellow engineering students, non-STEM groups at JMU, and local Girl Scouts. While there was an incentive to organize the workshops, that was not the students’ primary motivation; they were just excited about the resources UIF had given them and were eager to share what they had learned.

“We want to show them that there are a lot of different opportunities—not just for STEM but for other disciplines and majors—to not get stuck in their routine, but to come up with new creative ways to go about solving problems,” said Livingston.

In addition to the workshops where they taught others how to approach problem-solving, the group addressed problems of their own. One of those was to improve the culture and attitude surrounding the xChange—JMU’s annual celebration of the joys of engineering. To make the event more engaging, Robinson and Clay used a laser cutter to make personalized, wooden nametags for every participant and faculty, a process that took upwards of 20 hours.

Throughout the semester, professors Henriques and Paterson regularly met with the “leadership circle” (the official title of the participants), gave them advice and assistance, and traveled with them to Stanford. Henriques treats this program as an extension of his role as a professor and is proud of the accomplishments this year’s cohort made. “They’ve impressed me with their willingness to run with an idea and do what it takes to get it done,” he said. 

Engineering faculty and staff gathered around Standord.D vehicle

While the students learned practical skills, they also learned general life lessons that they will benefit from for years to come.

“I’ve just really learned a lot about using [failures] as growth opportunities,” said Clay. “The group hosted a few design-thinking workshops where nobody showed up, but the team didn’t see that as a failure; instead, they used that time to consider why nobody came and how they could improve for the next time.” 

“My goal in life is to own my own business,” said Duda. “So, I thought this program would allow me to get a better understanding of what it means to be an entrepreneur and what it means to be innovative.”

“Going through this program has allowed me to extend and work with other individuals of other majors, and I think that’s how the real world is,” said Robinson. Following planning throughout the summer, the leadership circle will introduce incoming students to an innovation skillset at engineering orientation camp, host short courses, and invite innovation-oriented speakers to campus throughout the fall semester.  Paterson observes, “their year in the UIF program concludes officially in December, but I imagine their contributions to our program and careers will last a lifetime.”

Published: Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Last Updated: Tuesday, June 5, 2018

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