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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.

University Innovation Fellows are working to increase student exposure to team building skills, innovation opportunities, design thinking, entrepreneurship, venture creation and funding resources.

University Innovation Fellows Logo

University Innovation Fellows receive 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 University Innovation Fellow at Smith, will be covered by the CIEC and DTI.

Examples of UIF Projects

  • Founding of student clubs that focus on solving real-world problems using an interdisciplinary approach
  • Fundraising for student-founded ventures
  • Redesign of curricular offerings to increase students' problem-solving skills

What’s Involved?

Each year, up to four students will be selected to apply for the University Innovation Fellows. These students:

  • must complete a six-week online training course offered by UIF and participate in weekly virtual meetings
  • work together to explore the existing entrepreneurial ecosystem at Smith and in the Pioneer Valley
  • meet regularly with faculty sponsors to identify the gaps that need to be solved in order to facilitate an increase in invention and innovation activity among their peers

Fellowships last for a term of one year. Selected students must plan to be on campus for the entire academic year of their appointment. University Innovation Fellows candidates should have a demonstrated passion for innovation, creativity and the entrepreneurial mindset, as well as a drive to make a lasting impact at Smith.

How to Apply

Stayed tuned for details about joining the 2019-20 cohort.

Questions? Contact: 

Monica Dean
Administrative Director, Conway Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center

Meet the Current Fellows

Every year, five Smith students are officially welcomed into the UIF network, establishing a new Leadership Circle 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.

Spirit Award
Simin Saba Royesh and Basira Daqiq, co-founders of Afra Café

Concept Awards

  • Zoleka Mosiah, founder of Afrobotics
  • Caitlin Sutherland, founder of Soul Doula
  • Anna Quintanilla, founder of We Story Tell
  • Wiktoria Leks, founder of WikiConnects

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.