NMSU engineering students named Innovation Fellows by NSF-Funded Epicenter

Innovation Fellows

Engineering Dean Ricardo B. Jacques, Jaymie Velasquez, Shanta Thoutam, and Industrial Engineering Department Head Edward Pines at a pinning ceremony for the recently named Innovation Fellows.

WRITER: Kristen Sullivan

Three NMSU engineering students are part of a cohort of 123 students from 52 higher education institutions across the United States recently named University Innovation Fellows by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter). The University Innovation Fellows program empowers students to become agents of change at their schools.

Karl Johannes, a mechanical engineering senior, Shanta Thoutam, an electrical engineering Ph.D. candidate and Jaymie Velasquez, a chemical engineering senior, were part of the recently named cohort. The three students join Mauricio Garcia, an industrial engineering senior, Brendan Sullivan, an industrial engineering graduate student and Ember Krech, a mechanical engineering senior, who were named Innovation Fellows last year.

“Karl, Jaymie and Shanta have joined a growing team of University Innovation Fellows at NMSU that are championing a student-led movement to build a community of innovation and entrepreneurship across the College of Engineering,” Patricia Sullivan, associate dean of the College of Engineering and co-lead for NMSU’s Pathways to Innovation funded by NSF, said. “They bring unique backgrounds and enthusiasm to catalyze student engagement as agents of change.”

The Fellows are a national community of students in engineering and related fields who work to ensure that their peers gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to compete in the economy of the future. To accomplish this, the Fellows advocate for lasting institutional change and create opportunities for students to engage with entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity, design thinking and venture creation at their schools.

This new cohort of Fellows brings the total number to 291 Fellows from 114 schools. The program is run by Epicenter, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University and VentureWell (formerly NCIIA).

“It is so critical for students to have an entrepreneurial mindset in today’s economy. They need more than just technical skills to solve the big problems our world is facing,” said Humera Fasihuddin, leader of the University Innovation Fellows program for Epicenter. “This mindset helps students learn to be flexible, resilient, creative, and empathetic. They learn how to identify and frame problems rather than simply solving what’s put in front of them. With these skills, students will be able to leave school better prepared to tackle challenges and create new and fulfilling jobs for themselves and others.”

Individual Fellows as well as teams of Fellows are sponsored by faculty and administrators at their schools and selected through an application process twice annually. Following acceptance into the program, students complete six weeks of online training, where they connect with their new network, examine their current entrepreneurial ecosystems and formulate action plans to implement their ideas. Throughout the year, they take part in events and conferences across the country and have opportunities to learn from one another, Epicenter mentors, and leaders in academia and industry.

“Fellows are having a powerful impact at their schools,” Fasihuddin said. “They are working alongside students, faculty and their university leaders to help all students learn an entrepreneurial mindset, dream big and pursue their career aspirations.”

Fellows have created student design and maker spaces, founded entrepreneurship clubs and organizations, worked with faculty to design courses, and hosted events and workshops. In the last academic year alone, Fellows created 553 activities, 22 new spaces and 65 innovation and entrepreneurship resources at their schools.

“Innovation Fellows bring together students with a shared interest in impacting change at their respective institutions,” said Edward Pines, department head of industrial engineering and co-lead for the NSF-funded Pathways to Innovation cohort at NMSU.

In February, the new Fellows gathered in Silicon Valley for an annual meeting. There, they took part in immersive experiences at Google and Stanford University, participating in experiential workshops and exercises.

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