Somto Okonkwo ’21 | News Editor
“Four Smith students have been named University Innovation Fellows by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design,” reads the e-digest.
Smith joined a national fellowship of colleges and universities aimed at increasing innovation and entrepreneurship on their campuses. Smith’s plan for achieving this is through the joint venture between the Design Thinking Initiative and the Jill Ker Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center. A common ground between these two operations is the promotion of uniqueness as an individual in design thinking to question gender, power and ability as a dynamic for creating a better world.
As a part of Smith’s engagement in innovation and entrepreneurship, four students have been selected to apply for the University Innovation Fellows, run by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Technology (“d.school”) at Stanford University. As an global student program, it aims at challenging students to tackle real-world issues through exposure to team building, design thinking, entrepreneurship, funding resources and venture creation, among others.
Asmita Gautam ’20, studying engineering and computer science, was recently named one of the fellows. An interview held with Gautam provided an opportunity to hear from a Smith fellow participating in innovation and entrepreneurship across different campuses.
Gautam explained that her initial interests in innovation and design originated from the realization of being able to create solutions and drive changes she wants to see. She said, “I am especially drawn towards the empathy work that needs to be done in the process, where you learn more about your target audience and try to understand them further… knowing that my ideas and solutions can positively impact someone's life.”
The famous physicist Albert Einstein quoted, “We can’t solve problems the same way we created them.” Smith’s learning spaces are very intentional on recognizing the importance of promoting design thinking and innovation. In 2016, Capen Annex was opened to allow group work, prototyping and collaborative idea generation. Even Google prioritizes creating playful workspaces to help employees come up with new, playful solutions.
Innovation contributes a great deal to productivity, hence economic growth. Until she started working with the Design Thinking Initiative, Gautam never understood its application in the real world. She said, “Once I was done with the training, I started viewing my majors and my own potential differently.” Her training with the former co-director of the Design Thinking Initiative, Zaza Kabayadondo, gave her a good basis to view design thinking differently. She saw its many applications and eventually became a University Innovation Fellow.
Forbes Magazine reported that “The power of machine learning is that technology can learn the habits of the consumers — following their footsteps — learning consumer behavior and altering itself in real-time.” We see some of these innovative practices in populated areas, like in shopping malls and airports, where consumer satisfaction is the crux of the matter.
It is arguable that innovation will make living standards higher and better. In terms of that, Gautam agrees with the majority that there is still a long way to go. A passionate project that will really meet the needs of students is one of her goals as an innovative fellow. Another is creating her own startup with a huge, positive social impact and importance to the tech industries. We see the evidence in her leadership roles and passion to increase female participation in STEM fields and entrepreneurship.
Smith has many resources to empower students to make healthy decisions for themselves and address real-world problems. It is left to Smith students on how to make use of these resources.