Four GVSU students traveling to Stanford as University Innovation Fellows

James Kilborn

Over spring break, four Grand Valley State University students will have the honor of traveling to Stanford University in California to take part in the University Innovation Fellows (UIF) Silicon Valley Meetup, an event that will feature experiential workshops and design labs all focused on improving higher education. 

The four students—Meredith Filter, Dean Geschiere, Haley Jennings and Madalyn Slubowski—will be accompanied by GVSU marketing professor Paul Lane, who emphasized the importance of the UIF program from a design perspective.

“This program is basically a program to help lots of young university students learn how to apply design thinking in a wide spectrum of subjects,” Lane said. “In order to participate, you are nominated or selected by your school. Then, those people are advanced to Stanford and they do an application. 

“They apply and show they’re worth including as a candidate. Then, they go through a long period of six weeks of intensive work online where they submit different things to the school.”

Filter, a sophomore studying comprehensive science and art for teaching, discussed UIF’s role in innovation and how the training the students underwent for the upcoming event can be applied to community development.

“UIF is where different schools from all over the world come together to work on bringing innovation and entrepreneurship into the community,” she said. “So, UIF is kind of that first step in jumping into that. They give us different tools.”

The event is both an opportunity to connect with people from different backgrounds and tour Stanford’s design school. 

“Traveling to Stanford as part of the UIF team is an incredible opportunity,” Jennings said via email. 

Jennings, a junior studying general management and entrepreneurship, said she hopes the meetup is a chance to be both inspired and empowered.

“The networking aspect of this program is most important to me—building relationships with other fellows, faculty, mentors and professionals,” she said. “As an entrepreneur, I’ve read all about The Design School at Stanford. Having the chance to go there is mind-blowing to say the least.”

Geschiere, a freshman studying finance and entrepreneurship, also spoke about the chance to network with others from all over the world.

“For me, I did this program to build a network of connections and see how some companies work and get to meet with people and see how developed companies and organizations work,” Geschiere said.

While in Silicon Valley, the group plans to tour the campuses of Google and Microsoft, gaining insight into innovative entrepreneurial practices and design methods they hope to bring back and apply to GVSU’s campus. 

“Our faculty champions, who are kind of like our advisers, are going to try and get us into a couple other places in the area,” Filter said. “I’m very excited about that. I think it’s going to be an amazing opportunity to see what type of new technology is up-and-coming and see how we can incorporate different work practices and thinking onto our own campus and see how people who have success in using these practices so we can bring that success to Grand Valley.”

The group of students also partnered with students from the Nicaraguan university UNAN-Managua, which is the first Central American college to be represented at the UIF event. Lane spoke about the important ties between the groups and how the international relationship is unique to both GVSU and UNAN-Managua students.

“With UNAN-Managua, it’s the first Central American school to be invited, and they are directly linked with our team,” Lane said. “In fact, one of the team members, Haley Jennings, flew with us down there, and we did a workshop with the team in UNAN-Managua to show them how things were done in design thinking and so forth.”

Jennings stressed the importance of the relationships they built with these other students.

“My chance to build face-to-face relationships with three of the members—Kelly, Sophia and Joslyn—in January means that we could support each other through training,” she said. “I hope that this cross-cultural collaboration can continue when they visit Michigan this March and stay with our team in Silicon Valley. Grand Valley hopes to continue integrating the relationship between our universities into the UIF experience.”

Lane hopes students not only view this event as an opportunity to gain perspectives from other successful entrepreneurs and innovators but also see how tackling the same problems from different viewpoints can lead to real change. 

“One thing I hope they see is that people are people no matter where they are, whether they’re in California or New York or Allendale, and that we have much the same skills in terms of thinking,” Lane said. “I’m hoping that they learn that it’s the way we apply to do things that seems to be the difference, that we can create environments that are really creative and can help us, and I hope we can bring some of that back to share and maybe help us improve things.”

The students will travel to the UIF event at Stanford over spring break and will be accompanied back to Allendale by the students from UNAN-Managua. The event will not only challenge the students to apply what they have learned through training for the event but will encourage them to take their experiences back to GVSU and push for change here on campus.