Aleksandar Antonov '17 believes anyone can be an innovator, as long as they have the will, some inspiration and a guiding hand.
One of three Bucknell undergraduates who this fall were named University Innovation Fellows by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter), Antonov and his colleagues hope to make Bucknell an even more supportive environment for helping students find their inner innovators.
"Being at a liberal arts institution, I am constantly witness to the means by which fellow students apply their studies beyond the classroom to develop ideas and programs and generate change," said Antonov, a computer science and engineering major and co-founder of the student group Engineers Take a Stand. "Upon this foundation of developed curiosity, innovators and entrepreneurs truly flourish."
Funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University and VentureWell, the University Innovation Fellows program empowers students to become agents of change at their schools by offering a venue for sharing ideas, tools and program models. All fellows are nominated by faculty at the institutions where they study, and must complete a six-week training course before being accepted. This fall, Epicenter named Antonov, Alexander Breakstone '17 and Emily Campbell '17 to its latest class of 150 fellows.
It was the fourth year in a row Bucknellians have been selected for the program, and the latest class hopes to build on the innovations of those who came before.
"With its wealth of resources and encouragement for critical and creative thinking, Bucknell has developed an environment that allows the entrepreneurial and innovative student to flourish," said Campbell, a biology major. "I've found my own innovation niche as one of the leaders of the entrepreneurship and innovation affinity house, the lab I research in and now as an Innovation Fellow."
The University's first innovation fellow was Amanda Ruppert '14, named in 2012–13, who was followed by Yifan Ge '14 the next year. Both surveyed the ecosystem for entrepreneurs at Bucknell, while Ge launched an innovation-centered speaker series. (Professor Joe Tranquillo, biomedical and electrical engineering, also served as a visiting faculty scholar with Epicenter at Stanford in 2013.)
In 2014–15, Peter Puleo '17 and Alejandro Ramirez de Arellano '17 were named innovation fellows, a role they'll continue this year. They helped transform Ge's speaking event into the inaugural TEDxBucknellUniversity, launched last March, and helped design and launch both the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Affinity House and the Creative Space lounge inside the new South Campus apartments complex, an open, airy space with colorful, easy-to-rearrange furniture and whiteboards on wheels.
"The design for the creative space was directly inspired by our visit to the Google's Mountain View headquarters and Stanford's design school," Puleo said. "We began to more fully understand why environment plays such a huge role in collaboration. Creativity is an open, outward process. It requires us to interact with each other, and with our surroundings."
The new class of innovation fellows plans to further that work by advertising and developing programming in the new workspace.
"Because the space is brand new, a large goal is to develop it in order to attract students and encourage entrepreneurial and design thinking," Breakstone said.
The new fellows have also already unveiled their own initiative, a 24-hour design challenge called Bucknell Innovates: The Great Outdoors, which last March challenged student teams to brainstorm and build new products that improve the way people interact with the outdoors. They plan to continue the program this year.
"What set this challenge apart was partnering with Gilson Boards and Playworld Systems, two local firms," said Breakstone, a mechanical engineering major. "Having industry partners provide the challenges and work directly with the student teams made this event unique."
All five current innovation fellows meet with Keith Buffinton, dean of the College of Engineering, twice a month to plan the next TEDx talk and other projects. The fellows have also developed four strategies for influencing Bucknell's campus climate, increasing awareness of entrepreneurship and innovation, integrating entrepreneurship into the curriculum and supporting student startups. A major focus within those strategies is to help spread conversations on campus about innovation and entrepreneurship outside the traditional silo of engineering. Through efforts such as Bucknell Innovates and collaborations with the Bucknell Innovation Group, which encourages students and faculty to partner across disciplinary lines, they hope to remind all Bucknell students that they can be innovators.
"I'd like to take steps to reshape the language with which we approach entrepreneurship, allowing it to evolve beyond one particular skill set, thereby becoming fueled by the creative efforts of the entire Bucknell community," Antonov said. "Innovation should occur in communal spaces, at the intersection of ideas, skills and experiences."