Four Gabelli School Students Named Stanford University Innovation Fellows
Undergraduate | Dec 13, 2023 | Gabelli School of Business
Following in the Footsteps of Previous Fellows, They Represent the School in Amplifying the Student Voice in the Global Conversation About the Future of Education
Each year, the Stanford University Innovation Fellow (UIF) program empowers students around the world to become agents of change in higher education. The Fellows are a global community leading a movement to ensure that all students gain the attitudes, skills, and knowledge required to navigate a complex world. These student leaders from schools around the world, create opportunities to help their peers build the creative confidence, agency, and entrepreneurial mindset needed to address global challenges and to build a better future.
The Gabelli School of Business has participated in the UIF program since 2018, and the four 2023 Fellows recently named—Nishka Singh, Emma Foley, Luigi Di Sanzo, and Rakshitha Rajasekaran—join a prestigious group of UIF alumni, many of whom have taken their experience as Innovation Fellows and have used it to become changemakers in their professional fields and beyond.
Supervised by Bozena Mierzejewska, Ph.D. a Gabelli School associate professor and area chair of Communications and Media Management, who is a UIF faculty champion and mentor, and an Innovation Fellow herself, along with Axel Roepnack, Ph.D., associate clinical professor of Communications and Media Management, the students are provided with the tools to make a real difference in their school and in the community at large.
“Through our partnership with Stanford University, we are offering Gabelli School students valuable opportunities to learn strategies that inform an innovative approach, and develop tactical skills that will help identify and solve the problems in their immediate environment and as they enter the workforce,” said Professor Mierzejewska. “Not only are they given knowledge that enables them to ask the right questions, they apply what they have learned by working collaboratively to create and deliver a project through ideation, prototyping and launch—simulating how they will be expected to work in their careers.”
It was their own experiences as first-year students along with a shared, deep commitment to creating meaningful, long-term change, that inspired the idea for the project the four Fellows are collaborating on this year. Their hope is to address the anxiety and uncertainty that students often feel as they begin their college career and experience campus life.
“We came up with four ideas—a mentoring program, a roadmap that lays out what a student should be doing each year, a digital insights gallery, and an industry open house during which recent alumni will come to speak to students and provide feedback in a more personal setting,” said Nishka Singh, a sophomore with a global business and marketing major. She and Emma Foley, who also is a sophomore pursuing the same major, are passionate about mental health awareness and were involved in non-profit and community work prior to enrolling in the Gabelli School. “I love doing community outreach, and I saw my participation in the UIF program as a great opportunity to make a difference,” Foley noted. “I am also interested in design thinking, and wanted to learn about how this framework could be applied to continually improve the student experience,” Singh added.
Luigi Di Sanzo, a finance major from Italy, was student body president of his high school and wanted to continue to help shape student life at the Gabelli School. “I liked working on a team, fighting for change, and finding ways to improve the school and the college experience.” Rakshitha Rajasekaran, a global business and finance major, was, like Singh, drawn to the program by her interest in design thinking as a concept. “I was involved in community service in a leadership position, and am interested in working on a team and utilizing design thinking to facilitating services for students.”
The Fellows worked closely with Professors Mierzejewska and Roepnack to flesh out their idea to alleviate Gabelli School first year students’ anxiety. “We worked with these mentors to turn our idea into a prototype, attending weekly meetings where explored what was possible and what was not,” explained Foley. Professor Roepnack commented, “These highly motivated students have the opportunity to have an impact on the school around them while taking part in a long-term initiative that will prepare them for their business careers. They learn how to work effectively in teams, conduct research, and collaborate with stakeholders to manage resources.”
Prior to starting on the prototype, the team conducted extensive research, interviewing close to 60 individuals, including 12 faculty members, to confirm the anecdotal suggestions that first-year anxiety—which is a very common phenomenon—was also an existing problem at the Gabelli School. They brought their findings to a stakeholder meeting on November 1, 2023, and are now working on a website that will contain relevant and helpful content to address this issue. The website, including videos, is scheduled to launch in January. The Fellows will test the website content using focus groups and gaining feedback from sophomores prior to its launch.
The Fellows were recently invited to attend the UIF 2023 Cohort Meetup in the Netherlands in April 2024, where they will discuss and exchange ideas with Innovation Fellows from other schools. This opportunity will not only help them to learn more about a variety of design approaches that can support their work as change agents. It also will be an opportunity to network with Innovation Fellows from around the world while representing the Gabelli School’s student voice in the global conversation about the future of education.
This year’s Fellows are inspired their predecessors who delivered projects that have stayed relevant and are still running. Eden Kavanaugh, Julia Mailing, Ojaswi Pradhan, and Vanditha Krishnan, juniors who completed UIF training last year, created and published new podcast episodes about financial literacy for the existing series titled “Gabelli School Innovators’ Podcast” https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/gabellischoolinnovators.
Written by: Michelle Miller, associate director of communications, Fordham University Gabelli School of Business