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Meet Fordham’s 2019 University Innovation Fellows

Gabelli100 | Dec 16, 2019 |

With purpose-driven business and sustainability at the forefront of how corporations approach social and environmental change, business schools are paving the way for students to approach global challenges with an entrepreneurial mindset.

Through partnerships with social innovation programs and fellowships, Gabelli School students are learning and leading others by putting perspective into practice. One of these programs, Stanford’s University Innovation Fellows program empowers students to become change agents at their schools. As fellows, these students are tasked with advocating for lasting institutional change and create opportunities for students to engage with innovation, entrepreneurship, design thinking and creativity at their schools.

The fellows are a global community of students leading a movement to ensure that all students gain the necessary attitudes, skills, and knowledge required to compete in the economy of the future. This semester, four Gabelli School students were named University Innovation Fellows (UIF). Along with the support of faculty champion and mentor Bozena Mierzejewska, Gabelli School associate professor and area chair of communications and media management, these fellows are ready to engage their peers:

Gerald De La Cruz, Marketing, 2022

For Gerald De La Cruz, BS ’22, his mantra is “innovation starts with education,” because it has played such a significant role in his upbringing.

“The phrase itself is one of my high school’s official mottos,” said De La Cruz, “therefore, I was constantly reminded of this mantra by teachers and administrators.”

Now, as a college student and UIF, he recognizes the truth of this mantra-like never before. For instance, during his training for UIF, Stanford University taught De La Cruz methods of design thinking and rapid prototyping to become a more effective innovator and disrupter on campus.

“Education is truly the first step in innovation,” he said. 

De La Cruz is an undergraduate student majoring in Marketing with a minor in Film and Television at the Gabelli School. He is a native New Yorker born and raised in the Bronx. Once realizing that he could pursue his love for film and the world of business, he applied to Fordham University right in his hometown. After his first semester, his class dean recommended him for the University Innovation Fellows program.

Alia Benabdeljalil, Global Business, 2022

Alia Benabdeljalil, BS ’22, believes that innovation is a way to answer an existing need that has not been fulfilled. She says this can only happen when one takes the time to understand and empathize with others.

“This is something I really cherish because I grew up moving from country to country,” said Benabdeljalil. “With every move, I learned to adapt quickly to new cultures, learn new languages and embrace a new sense of belonging. This ability to embrace someone’s culture and language has allowed me to connect with others.”

She said the program has opened her eyes to see that remaining stagnant would not allow her to achieve my goals and dreams. Instead, accepting failures would enable her to understand what her projects were missing and would give me a framework to fix the issues, ultimately allowing her to succeed. 

Benabdeljalil is an undergraduate student at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in International Business with a concentration in marketing and consumer insight, along with a minor in economics.

Benabdeljalil plans to use her experience to design innovative approaches to social, economic, and political challenges to affect positive change in communities and the world at large. 

Brittany Gesell, Global Business, 2022

For most challenges, there is some easy way out or obvious solution, but this is seldom the most effective response. That’s why Brittany Gesell’s, BS ’22, innovation mantra is “stretch yourself.”  

“I always try to dig deeper than my initial thoughts,” said Gesell. “This strategy motivates me to be extra thorough in my work as I analyze every side of the challenge I am facing. I try to consider as many options as possible when I am working to solve a problem.”

Gesell is a Global Business major. She was raised in Seattle, Washington, and has always loved to be in the middle of the excitement, which is why she moved to New York City to attend business school. Gesell became interested in innovation and entrepreneurship after participating in a design thinking workshop run by Fordham’s previous leadership circle, where she realized that it isn’t only inventors and creatives that can be entrepreneurs.

Gesell, one day, hopes to use her diverse array of accumulated knowledge to solve some of the systemic issues that our world is facing through work with nonprofits.

Giana Bartko, Business Administration, 2022

Giana Bartko’s, BS ’22, mission statement is to create a sustainable and lasting impact on those around her through entrepreneurship and creativity.

Because both of her parents are entrepreneurs, Bartko knew from a young age; she wanted to be an entrepreneur to follow in their footsteps.

“Apart from taking classes, I run and own a tutoring business for kids in my local community,” said Bartko. “I currently work with 15 students ranging from ages 7-16 and have developed a curriculum to help students cope with ADHD in the classroom and during homework.”

Bartko is studying Business Administration with a concentration in Entrepreneurship at the Gabelli School of Business. She is from the small town of Ardsley in Westchester, NY, located just outside of New York City. She was a 2018-2019 Social Impact 360 fellow, where she learned about social innovation as well as valuable entrepreneurial skills.

Bartko is committed to creating a sustainable and lasting impact on those around her through entrepreneurship and creativity. She looks forward to achieving this goal by working as a University Innovation Fellow.

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