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University Innovation Fellows: A Student's Experience

Posted by Yaser Alkayale on May 3, 2016 in Students, News

An annual meetup turned out to be a trip of a lifetime. When I was informed of the trip to Silicon Valley for the annual University Innovation Fellows meetup in January, I thought it would be fun and somewhat beneficial, but I was blown away in every positive way possible. In January I applied online to the Norman Newman Centre’s post for UIF, and a week later I got contacted by Dr. Mary Kilfoil who was excited to launch myself and Seline Dogan for spring 2016 as Dalhousie University Innovation Fellows (UIF).

When we first arrived at our hotel in Palo Alto, California, we were welcomed with the most enthusiastic and energetic people who gave us our carved-in-wood name tags and schedules for the weekend. From the beginning, we became equally as energetic and enthusiastic as the other fellows and we immediately fit in. Being the only Canadian university, we were very proud to represent Dalhousie University in Silicon Valley - I was particularly proud to represent the Faculty of Computer Science. After registration, we were served dinner with 4 different food trucks that offered great unlimited food for free, and there we started to network and make new friends.

The next day was filled with more excitement as we kicked off in the Googleplex in Mountain View, where the head of innovation and creativity of Google, Frederik Pferdt, gave us a whole day workshop about design thinking, innovation, and ideation. I used to find workshops of this sort useless and boring, but he kept us engaged and excited for the entire day. I learned that innovation can - and should - be taught in an engaging way. Also the idea of thinking 10x, building solutions that solve problems for the masses is very important at Google, but is also important for everyone trying to innovate.

Our third day in Silicon Valley was spent at the Institute of Design at Stanford where we learned about the importance of space-design, hosting workshop, negotiation skills, and innovation in general. Once again, I expected to be bored at some point during our 15-hour day, but I was fully engaged for the entire time. One highlight of the stay in Stanford was the innovation room which was completely modular, allowing for single group, multi-group work, or a classroom to be held very effectively and exactly fitting one’s needs. Another highlight was when Sebastian Thrun, the CEO of Udacity, founder of Google X, and computer science professor at Stanford University, gave us a talk and encouraged us to keep pushing the limits and working hard on any project that we are passionate about.

A quote that really stuck with me is: "You can build a business in 5 years, and you can build it by 5 days. Build it in 5 days. Don't waste your time,” - and from now on I will push the limits and work hard to make use of every minute of my life.

The last two days were spent at Microsoft and SAP where we got the corporate point of view about innovation and creativity. What I learned from them is that the big companies are dying to get young innovative talent who knows what innovation is and are able to come up with new ideas. This opened my eyes to the fact that everyone has the opportunity to be successful in life, we just have to set our goals and work towards them.

The annual meetup in Silicon Valley was truly a once in a lifetime experience because we filled 4 days with an incredible amount of excitement, energy, and motivation. The UIF organizing team succeeded to plant the seed in us that will give us the proper motivation to go out and spread innovation and entrepreneurship in our campuses. The meetup was a lot of fun, but the important work comes afterwards when we actually achieve things with projects that we work on.

I want to extend a thank you to the Norman Newman Centre, Dr. Mary Kilfoil, and Dr. Ed leach for giving us the opportunity to have such a fantastic experience. I currently have many projects to show students around Dalhousie what innovation is and how it can be effectively used to come up with ideas and bring them to life. Some of the projects include bringing a specialization of innovation to the Faculty of Computer Science, growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Dalhousie with the Dalhousie Entrepreneurship Society, introducing students to innovation and entrepreneurship early in their degrees, and more!

Collaboration is an important part of our mission, and I would love to talk to anyone interested to talk.