Stanford design school names three WMU students innovation fellows

Contact: Deanne Puca
Logo which reads University Innovation Fellows.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Three Western Michigan University students are among students worldwide who have been named University Innovation Fellows by Stanford University's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design.

They are among 360 students from 90 higher education institutions in 13 countries selected for the program, which is designed to empower students to become agents of change on their own campuses and ensure their peers gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to compete and make an impact on the economy of the future.

Fellows, sponsored by faculty and administrators as individuals or teams of students, are selected through an application process each year. WMU's latest class of fellows are:

  • Caylee Prater, an aerospace engineering major from Jackson
  • Aisha Thaj, a product design major from Portage
  • Cate Troost, a leadership and business strategy and English major from Grosse Pointe Woods

The trio will travel to the Silicon Valley Meetup March 19-23 with 400 students and faculty from around the world. The students will participate in several days of experiential activities at Stanford, Google and the surrounding area to teach attendees new skills and mindsets to help them with their campus projects.

WMU's 2019 University Innovation Fellows completed six weeks of online training from Sept. 3 to Oct. 13 using a Stanford course platform, and all of the activities they did as part of training took place on the WMU campus. They interviewed students and faculty, surveyed the ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship activities, met with campus leaders, and designed projects to fill needs they discovered.

The WMU University Innovation Fellows produced a "pitch video" as part of the application process. That video can be viewed at

This is the third year WMU has had multiple students selected for the program. The University's 2018 fellows were Andy Sylvain Hobelsberger, Megan Nicole Miller, Saleh A. Mohamed and Daniel Paul Mozel. The 2017 fellows were Nathan Lawarre and Jill Puckett.

With the addition of the new fellows, the program has trained nearly 2,200 students since its creation.

"Higher education needs to change faster to meet the need of students and industry today," said Humera Fasihuddin, co-director of the University Innovation Fellows program. "In traditional education systems, students have to wait until they graduate to make a difference. We don't believe in that. As the key stakeholders of higher education, students should be active participates in a change process that helps them learn the skills and mindsets necessary to create the future. The students who participate in our program are ideally poised to help accelerate the pace and change at their schools."

"Through this program, fellows gain skills, mindsets and knowledge to face ever-more complex challenges at their schools and in the world," added Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, co-director of the University Innovation Fellows program. "During training, fellows learn to analyze their campus ecosystems and identify opportunities for change related to innovation, entrepreneurship, design thinking, and creativity. They work to understand the needs of peers across disciplines and the perspectives of faculty and administrators. They apply this new knowledge and perspective to design new educational opportunities for their peers.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.