Four St. Thomas Engineering Students Named Fellows in Stanford Program

Four undergraduate University of St. Thomas students have been named University Innovation Fellows by Stanford University's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (

Last semester Murad Abduselam, Hannah Brodersen, Annabelle Hamilton and Paige Huschka were selected as St. Thomas' University Innovation "leadership circle" after first applying individually and then interviewing together as a team. This past fall, the group completed a six-week online training course aimed at empowering them to become agents of change at their school.

With training in the bag, their fellow status became official earlier this month, and together they recently began crafting plans to embody the UIF program's core belief "that students can be partners with faculty and administrators to help lead change in higher education," according to Humera Fasihuddin, co-director of the UIF program.

Huschka, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, agreed wholeheartedly with how the program places great value in the student perspective.

"I have a more personal view of what I feel needs changing," she said. "By becoming a fellow ... I can now pair up with faculty and use my student knowledge to help implement ideas in ways that benefit the whole campus, keeping students directly in mind."

During their training phase, they learned how to analyze their campus innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems and gained an understanding of the needs of stakeholders – with the goal of discovering ways to enrich educational possibilities for their peers. They'll use these tools to ensure that their fellow students gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to compete in the economy of the future and make a positive impact on the world.

As part of the application process the team conducted a survey that mapped St. Thomas' campus landscape, identifying the opportunities for innovation already available to students (i.e., the STELAR lab in the O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library and the Makerspace on the first floor of Anderson Student Center) then providing suggestions for improvement. Their acceptance was contingent on photographic evidence of their formal presentation to the university's stakeholders, which included the Opus College of Business' Stefanie Lenway, Ph.D.; Don Weinkauf, Ph.D., professor and dean of the School of Engineering; and St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan, among several more St. Thomas faculty and administrators.

Throughout this semester and fall 2017, the team will work to bring their ideas to life. Their term as fellows will culminate at the UIF program's Silicon Valley Meetup in California in November. There, they will participate in immersive workshops at Stanford's, Google, Microsoft and other organizations. They'll focus on topics such as movement building, innovation spaces, design of learning experiences and new models for change in higher education.

For the time being, they are only a few weeks into their fellowship but already are at work, brainstorming ideas.

"One big goal of ours is to bring students of different majors together, as we found many clubs and classes are geared toward one specific major, and interdisciplinary collaboration is a great thing! When we looked at our campus as a whole, we also found that many events have little to no advertising or only advertise to a specific major or group of people," said Hamilton, a sophomore mechanical engineering major. "The four of us are figuring out a way to collaborate with other groups on creating an app that would have all of the events and information in one location."

Brodersen, a senior double majoring in electrical engineering and physics, is excited to add entrepreneurial skills to her engineering tool belt. "It's really important to be able to think creatively and sell your ideas," she said. "UIF helps students gains these skills then pass their skills to others on their campus. I'm excited to support this mission."

Abduselam, Brodersen, Hamilton and Huschka are the first St. Thomas students to become UI Fellows, but the team's adviser, St. Thomas School of Engineering professor Brittany Nelson-Cheeseman, Ph.D., wants the four to be the first in a long succession of St. Thomas UI Fellows to come.

"The most exciting thing, as faculty, is that we always see the things we’re trying to do to enhance environment, so it’s great to see the students themselves taking ownership of their destinies and empowering themselves, asking 'How we can make this work for us?'" said Nelson-Cheeseman.

Their work at St. Thomas is sponsored by a grant the School of Engineering received from the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN) last year. Funds from the grant are used to promote entrepreneurial thinking in the undergraduate engineering experience, specifically curriculum development and support for engineering students and faculty to help drive an entrepreneurial culture across St. Thomas.

Team member Abduselam is a second-year junior majoring in computer engineering.