Four Virginia Tech students are on a mission to help prepare fellow Hokies for future careers.

Connor Mulligan, Timothy Cosby, Sydney Grace Miller, and Shafe Ahmed are the 2018-2019 University Innovation Fellows (UIF). This is a program run by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, also known as the d.school. It advocates for college students across the globe to devise new ideas and projects for their institutions related to innovation, entrepreneurship, and design.

On Dec. 4, during a ceremony in Burruss Hall, team members received pins and were recognized for completing a six-week online training session to join this international program that empowers student to become leaders of change in higher education. This year’s Virginia Tech fellows are focused on helping students gain attitudes, skills, and knowledge to compete in the workplace.

Next, they will attend the Silicon Valley Meetup, where they will connect with other students and mentors to build on what they have learned for implementing their project.

This is the second year that Virginia Tech students have participated in the Stanford program. The first cohort was instrumental in the success of the university’s first Experiential Learning conference last spring. To become an Innovation Fellow, students are either nominated by a professor or they can apply online by creating a one-minute video answering a few questions. If accepted, students interview with current fellows and faculty advisors.

“I wanted to join the UIF fellowship because of my interest in entrepreneurship and design,” said Mulligan, a sophomore who is studying industrial design and entrepreneurship. “I saw that the program takes a design-minded approach to coming up with ways Virginia Tech could better meet students’ needs and wants, similar to the way an entrepreneur might address consumers’ problems.”

As for the team’s plans at Virginia Tech, they will be hosting interdisciplinary workshops during the spring semester to promote workplace-ready skills. In addition, they want to organize more job fairs for all majors on campus, create opportunities for multidisciplinary work across academic units and organizations, and build close relationships with companies by involving alumni.

“You can see that students are really fixated on GPA and getting good grades,” said Ahmed, who is studying biochemistry and finance. “If more people are focused on getting hands-on experience and learn to problem solve, it will help them when they get in the workforce. A lot of employers say that the new incoming workers lack a lot of the 21st-century learning skills, and if they came in knowing how to utilize these skills, they would be much more effective.”

The fellows’ project this past semester occurred at the New Classroom Building. They took over a large chalkboard wall and encouraged students and faculty to write down their strengths and note topics of interest for future workplace workshops.

The fellows, guided by three faculty advisors — Leigh Lally, Jill Sible, and Bradley De Wet — will serve as liaisons between students and university leadership.

“We are passionate about giving students the opportunity to learn something, not necessarily major-specific, that can be valuable in the workforce,” said Miller, a junior studying interior design.

— Written by Haley Cummings