White House recognizes University Innovation Fellows program


In a world where competitive business drives economic success, students may sometimes find it difficult to imagine the prospects of landing a good job after graduation.  Efforts to educate students not only in academics but also in entrepreneurship and innovation have gained traction across the country.  The University Innovation Fellows program (UIF), a growing national movement, seeks to inculcate such fundamental skills in undergraduate students.  Notre Dame currently has four students representing the university as Fellows of the program.

According to the program’s website, UIF equips students with the “attitudes, skills and knowledge required for them to compete in the economy in the future.”  The National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (also known as Epicenter) operated the program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Each year, Fellows participate in two 6-week training sessions online, in which they develop creative, critical thinking, and teamwork skills.  National conferences are held throughout the year, and an annual meeting in Silicon Valley brings participants together to learn more about innovative techniques that work in the field today.

This past November, the White House acknowledged UIF as it celebrated National Entrepreneurship Month.  In the Office of Science and Technology Policy blog, the White House described the program’s Fellows as “students who are on a mission to generate more entrepreneurial activity and collaboration across their campuses.”

Out of the 168 Fellows from 85 institutions across the United States, four are students at Notre Dame: junior Mark Brahier and seniors Jeff Hansen, Jonathan Jou, and Elena Brindley.

The Rover interviewed Elena Brindley to learn more about the program and its incorporation into the student life and academic culture at Notre Dame.

Irish Rover: What distinguishes the University Innovation Fellows program at Notre Dame?

Something unique about the group of Fellows here at Notre Dame is that we are the first students from our school to ever participate in this program.  As such, we were the first students fortunate enough to have the opportunity to thoroughly examine the “innovation ecosystem” here during our training.  We were pleased to discover that Notre Dame has a wealth of resources related to innovation and entrepreneurship, but could improve in terms of communicating about them.  Therefore, rather than hoping to start anything new, we would like to focus our efforts on unifying the resources we already have and making them accessible to students in all areas of study.

What is your favorite part about being a Fellow of the program?

My favorite parts of this program are having the opportunity to learn from students with similar ambitions on campuses across the country, and having access to the tremendous support system and community offered by the UIF program.  It has also been a privilege to be able to take the time to learn more about opportunities available for students at Notre Dame.

What kind of impact do you hope to have on campus through your membership in UIF?

If I had to summarize our goals in one sentence, I would say that we hope to inspire an increased culture of innovative thinking that would be pervasive across campus.  More specifically, we hope to see students of all disciplines exposed to the idea that innovation and entrepreneurship are not restricted to the process of taking a product to market, but are really attitudes and ways of thinking that allow you to make the most of your education.  Finally, we hope to see all students aware of and excited by different opportunities related to innovation on campus.

A recent article on the Department of Science website described specific projects that the University Innovation Fellows at Notre Dame have created and are working to put into action.  One project, the Council for Academic Leadership and Innovation (CALI), will strive to foster discussion between students and faculty about education and innovative techniques to be explored.

In an initiative to launch CALI, the four Notre Dame Fellows have planned an Innovation Roundtable in conjunction with several student organizations and university faculty and administrators.  The event, which will promote thoughtful conversation about innovation and entrepreneurship, will take place at the beginning of this spring semester.
Sophia Buono is a freshman majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies.  She is excited to be back on campus and hopes to write more for the Rover this semester.  Contact Sophia at sbuono@nd.edu.