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Dal's University Innovation Fellows bring entrepreneurship and innovation to students across campus

Posted by Nicole Maunsell on March 21, 2017 in News

Yaser Alkayale (L) and Séline Dogan (R) with President Florizone (Photo credits: Abdulrahman Elshafei)


In a pinning ceremony at the end of February, President Florizone officially welcomed Dalhousie's newest University Innovation Fellows (UIF), Yaser Alkayale and Séline Dogan. Dogan, a third-year commerce student originally from Turkey, and Alkayale, a third-year computer science student originally from Syria, are copresidents of the Dalhousie Entrepreneurship Society (DES). They're bringing entrepreneurship and innovation to students across Dalhousie, which is exactly what the UIF program looks for when selecting Fellows.

The program is part of the Norman Newman Centre’s Launch Dal program, and is run by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school) at Stanford University. Student leaders who are helping their peers develop an entrepreneurial mindset on campus are selected and provided with training, support, networking and mentorship. Dogan and Alkayale went through six weeks of intensive online training designed to empower them to contribute to the entrepreneurial and innovative environment on campus, which culminated in a trip to Silicon Valley to meet the other Fellows and learn from tech leaders such as Google, Microsoft and SAP. They now have a peer network of hundreds of students around the world.

Both Dal Fellows believe that students from any discipline can benefit from entrepreneurship opportunities, and are looking for ways to close the gaps between disciplines. "We need more entrepreneurship in our curriculum. It doesn't matter whether you're in business, computer science, engineering or even arts," says Dogan, who believes these gaps are a major roadblock for students. In January, they presented their ideas about incorporating entrepreneurship and innovation into university curricula to the Association of American Colleges and Universities. They were two of only 11 UI Fellows from 776 worldwide—and the only Canadians—chosen to do so.

It's a topic they have a lot of experience with. As co-presidents of the DES, they rebranded the Society and saw it grow to over 500 members. They started the first Dalhousie #UIFresh, an orientation event that connects new students to entrepreneurship opportunities on campus. And they designed a multidisciplinary curriculum called Tuesday Takeoffs, which introduces entrepreneurship and innovation concepts in an accessible way to students who have never been exposed to them.

Their impact reaches beyond the Dal community. Dogan has served as a volunteer Entrepreneur Navigator with Prince's Operation Entrepreneur, a program that helps Canadian veterans start their own businesses. She also sits on the board of Startup Halifax—a local chapter of Startup Canada. Being from Syria, Yaser is passionate about helping refugees, so when he noticed a gap in educational opportunities, he started talking to people at Dal. "I went to everyone, from the President's office to Student Services," he says. Partnering with the Faculty of Computer Science, he helped deliver a week-long camp that taught newcomers with limited computer skills how to build their own websites. The camp was successful, and they've since received funding to create Maritime Labs, which teaches newcomers how to code.

Once you've seen Dogan and Alkayale's passion and enthusiasm in person, it's easy to see how they've accomplished so much. Mary Kilfoil, of the Launch Dal entrepreneurship program, is not surprised that the two have had so much impact on campus and beyond. "The whole idea behind the UIF program is that students can change the world," she says, noting that our Fellows already have. "I'm so impressed with the work that they've done."