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Second University Innovation Fellows student cohort committed to make a difference at UNF

University Innovation Fellows logo and student headshotsA new group of UNF students has committed to making a difference on UNF’s campus as part of the University Innovation Fellows program, which empowers students and faculty to become leaders of change in higher education.

The new group of students includes Tala Sartawi, a junior majoring in molecular/cell biology; Erisa Gjoka, junior in biology; Rory Hampson, sophomore in political science and sociology; Jules Gerstein, sophomore in social work; and Maxwell Twardowski; sophomore in computer science.

Students apply as a team along with faculty champions and then work with the University Innovation Fellows program leaders during an intensive six-week period to conduct in-depth analyses of their campus ecosystems and learn about available tools and resources. The students then utilize this information to develop unique projects that address needs at their respective institutions.

“These students are incredibly motivated and went through a rigorous application and interview process before they could even become candidates,” said Dr. Jeff Chamberlain, UNF Hicks Honors College dean and faculty champion mentor. “They formed a powerful team, overcame the challenges of the pandemic and fulfilled their training admirably without having ever met in person. The team consulted and surveyed dozens of faculty, staff, and other students in order to generate ideas that would create the most impact on campus, all without extrinsic rewards such as academic credit or remuneration. The University exults in their dedication and success, and we look forward to the contributions they will make towards greater innovation at UNF.”

The students are still working to finalize the focus of their project and are considering ideas such as working to enhance the University’s marketing and communications systems for student resources; hosting events to engender innovation from students such as a TEDx-type conference; creating a virtual maker space; and enhancing the University’s mental health awareness week. 

After training, the Fellows receive year-round mentorship, connect with one another digitally, attend national conferences/events and participate as part of a global network of like-minded students who are learning from one another and creating multi-institution collaborations. The students serve as advocates for lasting institutional change with academic leaders, lending the much-needed student voice to the conversations about the future of higher education.

UNF’s first cohort of University Innovation Fellows targeted campus sustainability for the focus of their project. The group planned awareness activities and events including a Sustainability Week for spring 2020 but was canceled due to the pandemic. The first cohort of students included Anastasia Daniels, sociology and communications major; Evan Maslin, economics and international studies; Courtney Ardizzoni, transportation & logistics and business management; and Thatcher Hart, political science.

The University Innovation Fellows program is run by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design.