Meet Fordham’s 2020 Stanford University Innovation Fellows
Gabelli100 | Nov 20, 2020 | Michael Benigno
By Ashley Rabinovitch
Over a six-week training period, the newly minted Fellows studied principles of entrepreneurship, design thinking, and innovation with the goal of creating new opportunities for student engagement.
Given the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for business leaders with an innovative, entrepreneurial approach to solving problems has never been greater. One way that the Gabelli School prepares students to meet the most critical challenges of our time is through partnering with social innovation programs like Stanford’s University Innovation Fellows (UIF) program.
Run by Stanford’s Hasso Platter Institute of Design, the UIF program trains students to become agents of change on campus. This year, four Gabelli School students participated in the UIF program alongside 198 other students from 45 institutions of higher education around the world.
The students work with the support of faculty mentor Bozena Mierzejewska, associate professor and area chair of communications and media management, who herself was named a Stanford Faculty Innovation Fellow – one of just 20 such educators globally.
The 2020 fellows have already developed a new the Alumni-Student Collaboratory, a new program to match undergraduate students across disciplines at Fordham with alumni for networking and mentoring opportunities. Despite the challenges of spearheading a brand-new program during a pandemic, the UIF fellows are working hard to get the Alumni-Student Collaboratory up and running.
Bhavesh Patel, BS’ 23, learned about the UIF program when last year’s Innovation Fellows taught the basics of design thinking to incoming freshmen in a Ground Floor class. “The class exposed me and my peers to new ways of thinking and gaining knowledge,” he shared. “UIF has brought change to our campus, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
A Long Island native, Patel is an undergraduate student majoring in marketing with concentrations in communication and mass media and electronic business. He is committed to leveraging his skills in digital media to help create and promote the new Alumni-Student Collaboratory. “I’m always looking for ways to combine marketing with social impact,” he said. “It’s a lot of work to get this project off the ground, but it’s rewarding to boost student engagement during COVID.”
Participating in the UIF program reinforced Patel’s longstanding passion for entrepreneurship. He already runs a videography business in his spare time, and he has plenty of ideas percolating, including a plan for a real estate business that addresses the problem of homelessness. “I’m more convinced than ever that I want to spend my life making a social impact, whatever form that takes,” he said.
Like Patel, Benjamin Lukens, BS’ 23, was intrigued by design thinking when he first encountered the concept in his freshman year. “For the first time, I learned about designing projects around the end user,” he shared. “You have to understand the needs of the people you’re trying to impact before diving into a project.”
Lukens is an undergraduate student majoring in finance with minors in information systems and political science. Since he moved to the Bronx, he has identified a need for someone to build stronger bridges between campus and the surrounding community. “I have often sensed a disconnect,” he explained. “My goal is to create more intentional, structured ways for students to understand the community around us.”
From meeting local business owners and entrepreneurs at the Bronx Night Market to using design thinking to develop a nonprofit idea for a Bronx-based tutoring service, Lukens has already discovered ways to engage the community.
“I’m not certain where I want to go next, but I have plenty of ideas,” said Lukens. “The UIF program has expanded my horizons in terms of how I think about campus engagement and the people I’m trying to serve. I will take those perspectives with me wherever I go.”
For Teodor Parolo Tasevski, BS ’23, the UIF program presented a unique opportunity to become more invested in the success of his peers. “I want to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation among my fellow students however I can,” he affirmed.
A native of Italy, Parolo Tasevski spent his formative years living in Skopje, Macedonia. He discovered a passion for entrepreneurship at a young age and plans to start a business in the near future. Currently, he is an undergraduate student majoring in global business with concentrations in entrepreneurship and finance.
From Parolo Tasevksi’s perspective, the process of brainstorming and developing project ideas with his fellow UIF participants during the six-week training period helped reinforce the patterns of thinking and problem-solving that the UIF program aims to impart. “The most useful takeaway from the program was the idea of prototyping solutions to problems that we identified on our campus,” he shared. “Together, my team members and I had the freedom to throw around ideas, however impractical some of them were, and develop an idea for impact that excites us.”
Through launching the Alumni-Student Collaboratory, Parolo Tasevski looks forward to “helping current students learn from what previous students have accomplished,” he said. “Hopefully the collaboration sparks some new ideas.”
Arham Sheikh, BS ’23, learned about the UIF program from Professor Mierzejewska, who believed that the program would help Sheikh connect the dots between his interest in digital media and his desire to make a social impact. A native of Long Island, Sheikh is an undergraduate student majoring in global business with a concentration in digital media and technology. “I didn’t know how I wanted to apply what I was learning in my classes, but I viewed the UIF program as an opportunity to explore,” he remembered.
After six weeks of training alongside his UIF team members, Sheikh has found his background in digital media and technology particularly valuable as he prepares to help students and alumni connect virtually. “The UIF program has challenged all of us to think of solutions from a fresh perspective,” he said.
As Sheikh envisions a career in business analytics or marketing for emerging media companies, he places a high value on the empathetic lens he gained from the program.
“Design thinking, in particular, requires you to focus on the perspectives of others to find a solution,” he reflected. “We put this concept into practice by starting our UIF project with a survey that asks fellow students about the connections they would like to make with alumni. We’re really looking forward to seeing how the Alumni-Student Collaboratory brings people together in a difficult time.”
Ashley Rabinovitch is a brand journalist who specializes in higher education, entrepreneurship, and healthcare.