Penn State students participate in University Innovations Fellows program

Cassie Kidwell
January 20, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Before their selection as University Innovation Fellows, Penn State students Hayden Long and Michael Miller knew they had a passion for entrepreneurship. 

Now, thanks to their experience in the international program, the duo is using their passion to enhance the entrepreneurial spirit at Penn State.  

The University Innovation Fellows program aims to introduce leadership qualities and empower university students across the world. Run by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school), 360 students from 90 higher education institutions in 13 countries were named University Innovation Fellows (UIF) in the fall of 2019.  

Long and Miller participated in the program’s six-week training process in early fall 2019. The training offered a guide through the steps of design thinking and tasked them with analyzing Penn State’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem — something they’ve both explored previously.

Three men place sticky notes on a whiteboard.

Christopher McComb, assistant professor of engineering design and mechanical engineering; Shawn Clark, clinical professor of innovation and entrepreneurship and Michael J. Farrell Endowed Professor for Entrepreneurship; and Jiahao "Ben" Yan, a junior majoring in workplace engagement, add sticky notes to a whiteboard that list ideas on how to promote a more innovative culture, how to inspire more entrepreneurial stories and how to get students involved in entrepreneurship opportunities sooner at Penn State.

IMAGE: Penn State

Miller, a junior, created his own major called values-driven product design to learn how to make ethical products. In his major, Miller’s goal is to go beyond the technical aspects of product creation and focus on the cultural aspects and psychology of how people buy and use products. 

Long is the president of Innoblue, an entrepreneurship organization at Penn State that provides opportunities to students in entrepreneurship and emerging technology. As a sophomore double majoring in information sciences and technology and economics, Long wasn’t exactly sure where he wanted to take his education when he first came to the University.  

Originally following an engineering path, he was introduced to design optimization in EDSGN 100: Introduction to Engineering Design, a course provided by the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP). Long’s EDSGN 100 section was taught by Chris McComb, assistant professor of engineering design and mechanical engineering. McComb would eventually serve as the pair’s faculty adviser, during their time as University Innovation Fellows. 

“The focus of this team is on increasing entrepreneurial activity at Penn State through increasing awareness, increasing resources and lowering barriers to entry for new student entrepreneurs,” McComb said. “Encouraging this kind of mindset is something that we are passionate about in SEDTAPP.” 

Miller learned about UIF through Long, who discovered the program on LinkedIn and wanted to apply because of his interest in entrepreneurship. 

That’s exactly what Long did — gathered his application material and references and received $4,000 from Invent Penn State through James Delattre of the Office of Entrepreneurship & Commercialization, providing him proof of institutional support.  

After Miller and Long were accepted into the program, they set to work. In a giant spreadsheet, the two sought to learn how Penn’s State entrepreneurial opportunities could improve.  

Long and Miller wanted to focus their efforts on a few ideas to improve Penn State’s entrepreneurial ecosystem: broadcast entrepreneurship opportunities to all students, increase venture capital presence and elevate successful entrepreneurial alumni.  

“The main part is to find what is missing, and then create initiatives and goals that you can use after the training to partner with the different stakeholders — faculty, students, administrators — and help kind of make change in those areas,” Miller said. 

Another part of their plan included introducing entrepreneurship to Penn State first-year students before the official start of the fall semester. They came up with the idea to integrate entrepreneurship in the Spend a Summer Day program at Penn State, a campus open house for prospective first-year students to learn about the University and its offerings. Miller said exposing rising first-year students to entrepreneurial projects current students are working is important, as it introduces entrepreneurial ideas early on.  

“One of the things we're trying to work on with this project specifically, is how can we introduce students to the startup ecosystem or the entrepreneurship ecosystem,” Miller said. 

Long and Miller are currently piloting “Students Teaching Students,” or student-led courses on a variety of topics that would appeal to a diverse group of students. Miller provided examples such as a one-credit course on Kanye West and his music, a course on digital product design that looks at using applications on smartphones to build products and a course that teaches about implicit biases in health care. 

To assist the duo to project their program across Penn State, McComb worked to engage stakeholders, which include faculty from across the University. McComb created connections between Long and Miller and faculty members from multiple colleges to facilitate conversations and feedback on the team’s ideas.  

“Michael and Hayden came into the program with some strong human-centered design skills and a clear vision for how they wanted to proceed,” McComb said. “What I tried to provide during the process were just some strategies for overcoming specific challenges and engaging University stakeholders.” 

Long said though the process has sometimes been time-consuming, his entrepreneurial drive helped him through.  

“The thing that was really inspiring (to learn from the program), I think for both of us, was that entrepreneurship is so widely applicable to every single major and every single person on campus,” Long said. “And it's just a matter of us being able to show that.” 

 

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated January 27, 2020