Billy Wall uncovered his passion for entrepreneurship as a student at Bucknell. Now he’s helping a new generation of Bucknell students find theirs.
The sophomore mechanical engineering major from the Jersey Shore is one of three Bucknell students named to the latest class of University Innovation Fellows by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. Together with classmates Jae Young Lee ’19, a chemical engineering major, and Caitlin Mahoney ’19, a markets, innovation & design major, Wall is designing a new pre-orientation program for incoming first-year students focusing on entrepreneurship and design-thinking, and shepherding other initiatives to foster innovation and exploration at Bucknell.
“Coming into Bucknell, I thought I just wanted to be an engineer — I had no idea I had a passion for management and entrepreneurship,” Wall recounted. “With this pre-orientation we hope to expose new students to the possibilities they can have in entrepreneurship and in other avenues outside their main academic focus — right from the start.”
The University Innovation Fellows program, which began as a National Science Foundation-backed initiative, seeks to empower students to become agents of change at their schools. Together with students from more than 60 higher-education institutions in 10 countries, Wall, Lee and Mahoney in November completed a nine-month training program that included a trip to Silicon Valley, and are now putting that training to use enacting positive changes — ones they intend to remain in place even after they graduate.
“We’re working with deans, people from across the nation and as far away as India,” Wall said. “I’m making connections and doing things I never thought I’d be able to do as a student. It’s really given me confidence to believe in myself and take big risks.”
A Long-running, Student-led Effort
Their work follows a well-established path, as Lee, Mahoney and Wall mark the fifth consecutive class of Bucknell students accepted into the program. A total of 12 Bucknell students have been named innovation fellows, including current seniors Reid Sanchez and Sami Golaski. The newest program members are working with Sanchez and Golaski to further a project that the seniors started last year: an effort to assess the campus social scene and develop action plans to help it better embrace and support creativity, innovation and diverse outlooks. The fellows have assembled a diverse board of students from across the campus in order to identify opportunities for improvement and tackle them with methods absorbed from their University Innovation Fellows training.
“Given the diverse community we have here at Bucknell, it is critical that we create an inclusive community for everyone to feel at home and welcomed,” said Lee, who is from South Korea and served as a residential adviser for the International House living-learning community. “We hope to make this happen through our inclusive design strategy in the social sphere of Bucknell.”
“One of the great things about being a University Innovation Fellow is that you get to look at the University through a different lens,” added Mahoney, a former member of the Society & Technology Residential College who is from Reading, Mass. “You see all the underlying touchpoints and connections that are made across campus — and where those connections aren’t quite as strong as they could be. It’s an opportunity to examine how we can fully utilize all the great resources that we have on campus and create a structure to make more of those connections.”
Creative Spaces and TEDx Talks
Previous innovation fellows have helped establish the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Affinity House, a themed living-learning community for students interested in entrepreneurship; the Square One Studio, a student-designed lounge in the South Campus Apartments that aims to kick-start innovative thinking with moveable furniture, simple prototyping supplies and creativity-joggers like a Lego wall; and TEDxBucknellUniversity, a local extension of the popular outside-the-box lecture series.
The pre-orientation program Bucknell’s newest innovation fellows are devising — which they plan to launch in summer 2019 — seeks to capitalize on Bucknell’s distinct position at the intersection of top-ranked liberal arts, engineering and management programs. The fellows are working with Dean of Students Amy Badal to bring together resources from all three of Bucknell’s colleges and best serve incoming students.
“Their work is an exemplar of the opportunities to explore intersections that the University offers our students,” said Badal. “They’re immersing themselves in a highly personalized residential experience, deeply engaging in the curriculum and serving as the author of their Bucknell experience.”
As they seek to take innovation at Bucknell to the next level, the fellows say they’re also applying the knowledge and proficiencies they’ve honed in the classes and experiential-learning activities like Bucknell’s residential colleges — each of the three students has lived in a different one of these living-learning communities.
“I’ve developed problem-solving skills during my course of studies, but I was eager to explore opportunities to apply my skills and create an impact,” said Lee. “The fast pace and action-oriented nature of the fellowship has provided me with an outlet to translate my ideas into action, work hard and collaborate with other fellows.”