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A Culture of Care

Read Smith’s UPDATED plans as of August 5, 2020,
for an entirely remote fall 2020 semester.

University Innovation Fellows


Monica Dean

Administrative Director, Conway Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center

Borjana Mikic

Co-Director, Design Thinking Initiative

Through a joint venture between the Jill Ker Conway Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center and the Design Thinking Initiative, Smith College has joined a national fellowship of colleges and universities striving to increase innovation and entrepreneurship on their campuses.

What Is It?

University Innovation Fellows is an international student innovation program run out of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design ( at Stanford University. As of Fall 2016, the program includes more than 700 fellows and 160 partner schools in the United States and abroad. Fellows act as leaders, liaisons, thinkers, creators, doers, designers, pushers of boundaries and conversation starters, among other roles. UIFs are working to increase student exposure to team building skills, innovation opportunities, design thinking, entrepreneurship, venture creation and funding resources.

University Innovation Fellows Logo

UIFs received year-round mentorship, connection with other fellows digitally, and they attend national conferences and events. This national network of like-minded students helps fellows learn from one another and foster multi-institution collaborations. Thanks to the generous donation of Tom and Betsy Brady '68, all fees, travel and lodging expenses for conferences and meet-ups, and programming costs for each UIF at Smith, was covered by the CIEC and DTI.

Past Fellows

Three cohorts of five Smith students formed Leadership Circles between 2016-2019 at Smith College.

2016-2017 Cohort

From left to right: University Innovation Fellows - Jessica Innis, Amanda Lavond, Yi Wang, Lingxuan Li, and Mandira Marambe.
From left to right: University Innovation Fellows - Jessica Innis, Amanda Lavond, Yi Wang, Lingxuan Li, and Mandira Marambe.

Jessica Innis '17

  • Major: Chemistry; Minor: Economics; Executive Director, Startup Smith
  • I applied to UIF because I wanted to foster a community that utilizes entrepreneurship, innovation, and design thinking, and I think UIF serves as another channel to do just that. I have previously taken Introduction to Design Thinking, Introduction to Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Economics of Innovation. Through my UIF training experience, I have learned the importance of time management, group dynamics, measuring KPIs, and communication. UIF training provided activities and webinars on introductory entrepreneurship, innovation, and design thinking as well.

Amanda Lavond '18

  • Major: Architecture; House President, Haven-Wesley
  • I was first introduced to design thinking in EGR 100, where my team built a self-watering planter that could clasp to windowsills. I applied to the UIF program because I wanted to find a way to make and see physical change on campus as well as to encourage and embrace failure. So far, I have enjoyed being part of a team of thinkers that have challenged me to think outside of the box. I appreciated that UIF has given me the tools and venue to speak out about the changes needed in the campus climate. My goal in life is to have a slide in my home and to observe as much of life as I can through my own two eyes.

Lingxuan Li '17

  • Major: Economics and Mathematics; Concentration: Global Financial Institutions; Vice President, Smith College Investment Club
  • I spent my junior year abroad at the London School of Economics studying finance and economics and furthered my interest in finance as an investment banking summer analyst. I applied to the UIF program as a senior because I wanted to make an impact on Smith College before I graduate. Although I did not have any prior experience in design thinking, I learned the basics through the six week UIF training program and weekly projects (all challenging but incredibly rewarding). I am proud to be a member of the inaugural Leadership Circle this year and I'm excited to bring more entrepreneurial spirit to the campus!

Mandira Marambe '19

  • Major: Engineering major; Minor: Physics (potentially)
  • I was introduced to design thinking methodologies in an introductory engineering classroom. I also completed an online course in prototyping. Together, these courses sparked my interest in innovation and the UIF program. As an aspiring engineer, I value the UIF mission to make impactful change on the campus innovation culture, and I hope to be part of such impactful change at Smith. The UIF training and project work so far has been a source of much inspiration, of building and improving new and existing skills, and an opportunity to work with an incredible team.

Yi Wang '19

  • Major: Psychology and Statistics; Social entrepreneur, designer, and learning experience expert
  • I am never satisfied with one hashtag only. I became a high school teacher while still a high school student and successfully piloted the first service learning elective at the most selective school in Guangzhou, China which instructed 25 students to accomplish their projects. Before I came to Smith I took a gap year and founded my studio YS – promoting sustainable and socially-responsible fashion in China. My mission-driven studio transformed into a design school where I seek to empower children of migrant factory workers with mindsets and skill-sets to be fashion designers. I believe deeply in the power of design to excite learning and so I applied to be a UIF fellow. I want to help to build a robust learning environment for every Smithie to be a changemaker.

2017-2018 Cohort

Nybria Acklin '18

Major: Sociology; Minor: Economics

  • Nybria is a senior working toward her Bachelor's of Arts in Sociology. She is also minoring in Economics and studying Mandarin Chinese. Nybria gained interest in the University Innovation Fellowship (UIF) after a friend and prior fellow encouraged her to apply. One challenge she had in becoming a fellow was connecting inclusivity and diversity to innovation and entrepreneurial projects. A highlight from the University Innovation Meetup included a talk from an alum who stated, “there is no true innovation without inclusivity.” After college, Nybria aims to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities that work to alleviate issues related to racial disparities in education and economic opportunity. Nybria hopes to use UIF to encourage more social science and humanities majors to be part of spaces of innovation and entrepreneurship at Smith.
Lisa Feiden '18

Major: Engineering Science

  • By majoring in engineering at a liberal arts college, Lisa was attracted to the creative aspects of the field. She has taken multiple entrepreneurship classes (even one in Israel) and was a finalist in the Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs.  She is very interested in the Design Thinking approach to problem-solving, and how entrepreneurship and innovation can be utilized to inspire positive changes on campus.  Lisa was surprised how few engineering majors seemed to take advantage of the Conway Center's opportunities at Smith College, especially since the skills taught in engineering courses are valuable in an entrepreneurship setting. She saw an opportunity to solve problems like designing for inclusion through UIF. As a UIF cohort, she traveled to California to the UIF Silicon Valley Meetup, where she met Fellows from all over the world.  Lisa was pleasantly surprised to see what other Fellows have accomplished both on in-school projects as well as in their career paths.
Lucy Kneissler '19

Major: Economics

  • Lucy has been involved with Smith College's Investment Club, the Conway Center for Student Innovation, and the Design Thinking Initiative at Smith. These organizations have led her to becoming a University Innovation Fellow for the 2017-2018 school year. In the future, Lucy hopes to gain additional experience in seed funding and angel investing. Lucy is passionate about entrepreneurship and hopes to encourage her peers to find opportunities to get involved in the startup community at Smith.
Van Nguyen '18

Major: Computer Science

  • As a graduating senior, Van wants to make a lasting impact by leading initiatives to help fellow Smithies acquire necessary skills in a time that calls for innovation. She hopes to give back and apply her personal insights to develop the entrepreneurship ecosystem at Smith College. The greatest learning experience for Van so far is the Silicon Valley Meetup. The meetup was filled with experiential learning workshops, inspiring lightning talks, prototyping sessions and plenty of teamwork activities. She spent a day at Google to learn about the culture of innovation, what makes an effective team, the concept of moonshot thinking and Google's interesting ongoing projects. At and Stanford University, she was introduced to approaches to develop maker-space on campus and best practices in design for inclusion and engagement. Van also had a chance to participate in a music design challenge and enjoy a Grammy Award-winning artist's concert at UIF's 5-year celebration. 
Haven Sandoval '20

Major: Engineering Science

  • Haven joined the University Innovation Fellows program to put her passion for design, innovation, and social justice to good use on Smith campus. Joining UIF has connected Haven with hundreds of students from across the globe who are just as passionate about change as she is. The best part of UIF has been the Stanford meet-up where Haven brainstormed a way to improve music education in grades K-12 with five other UIF fellows from across the nation.

2018-2019 Cohort

From left to right: University Innovation Fellows - Beth Yigzaw, Isabelle Hodge, Emma Sui, and Asmita Gautam.
From left to right: University Innovation Fellows - Beth Yigzaw, Isabelle Hodge, Emma Sui, and Asmita Gautam.


Asmita Gautam '20

  • Asmita is a junior Computer Science and Engineering Science double major at Smith from Kathmandu, Nepal. She was introduced to the UIF program from the Design Thinking Initiative at Smith, where she worked as the Empathy Design Partner her sophomore year.  Asmita loves the idea of human centered design and hope to have her own start up some day applying the concepts that she is learning right now. In her free time, she loves singing and learning songs on my ukulele. Asmita also love dogs, penguins, sloths, sushi, and dumplings
Isabelle Hodge '20
  • Isabelle Hodge is a Junior Computer Science and Sociology Major at Smith College. She grew up in both California and Texas. She first became involved with design thinking and entrepreneurship on her campus while starting her company “Shesabelle Chandeliears,” an innovative earring option for people with metal allergies. Her sophomore year she joined the Design Thinking Initiative Team as a Visual Design Partner, making videos to promote the Design Thinking Initiative across campus. That summer she worked in San Diego with Vivacity Sportswear to research creative solutions to textile waste. As a UIF fellow, Isabelle hopes to generate more opportunity for students across campus to use their imaginations and innovate playfully.
Emma Sui '19
  • Emma is a senior from Dalian, China. She is currently pursuing a double major in Economics and Anthropology. As a UIF fellow, she has come to realize that the "hidden entrepreneurial mindset" is at work in non-STEM career paths. She is really grateful for the opportunity to a part of the UIF cohort this year. She was motivated to apply to the program by her hope to be remembered as someone who has contributed to making Smith a more inclusive and supportive environment. Another motivating factor for her is the interdisciplinary nature of the program that recognizes valuable assets from different academic backgrounds.
Bethlehem "Beth" Yigzaw '19
  • Beth is a senior at Smith College pursuing a major in Biochemistry. She is originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and has been living in the Washington D.C. area for the past eight years. Outside of her interest in STEM and translational research, she is passionate about using contemporary education and technology to provide alternative academic support for students in higher education. She sees innovation and entrepreneurship as a way to achieve this. In her free time, Beth likes to paint portraits and read.