UC Next Innovation Scholar begins MIT grad school journey
Fusing literature and biology for futuristic science writing
From an early age, Next Innovation Scholar Lily Stewart had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and an affinity for literary nonfiction and science books.
Armed with a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Cincinnati's College of Arts and Sciences, a minor in biology and a certificate in medical humanities, Stewart stands poised to illuminate a path forward to positive change through her written word. She heads to Boston this fall to pursue a master’s degree in science writing from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
A life-changing opportunity
Stewart was the sole humanities student in 2021, when she became part of the first cohort of the NEXT Innovation Scholars (NIS) program, a transdisciplinary cohort-based learning experience designed to cultivate collaborative learning, foster creative thinking and enhance problem-solving skills. The program offers financial support to participating students through scholarships for undergraduate tuition and supplemental educational experiences.
“I’ve always felt strongly that we need to have voices and input from social sciences, humanities and liberal arts at the table when pursuing innovation. When Lily applied and our committee read more about her diverse background and interests, there was immediately a sense of excitement,” said Aaron Bradley, director of the NIS program.
Stewart said the program — and the financial support it offers students — is “life-changing.”
"The ability to explore opportunities fearlessly and without burden is incomparable. There's a level of intellectual and professional freedom and flexibility you get when you aren't worried about your debt accumulating forever,” she said. “It can stifle growth and exploration if you must work to maintain your education. The NIS program is an enormous privilege.”
The ability to explore opportunities fearlessly and without burden is incomparable. There's a level of intellectual and professional freedom and flexibility you get when you aren't worried about your debt accumulating forever.
Lily Stewart UC Next Innovation Scholar
A socially-oriented perspective
Through NIS-fueled experiences such as mentoring from a Silicon Valley leader and participation as a University Innovation Fellow (UIF) with the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, Stewart gained exposure to design thinking and strategic foresight — skills that were complementary to her major.
"English brings a lot of very critical storytelling skills that are essential, especially the ability to communicate what you're doing and why it's important. Through my cultural and literary studies, I worked hard to build knowledge and empathy between people with different experiences and backgrounds,” she said.
Despite her natural tendency toward shyness, Stewart wholeheartedly embraced the NIS program, emerging as a confident and capable leader.
“Lily has been thoughtful, curious and resilient in every aspect of her time as a NEXT Innovation Scholar. She’s never been afraid to stretch into projects or environments that are outside of her comfort zone or the perceived lines of her major,” Bradley said. “Students often drift toward focusing on new technology when discussing future-focused innovation, but Lily always brings interesting perspectives that are more socially oriented, and our work has been stronger because of it.”
We want you
Stewart received offers of admission to all five of the graduate programs she applied to, ultimately choosing MIT, which offers a highly regarded master's degree in science writing.
Stewart credited her participation in the NEXT Innovations Scholars program as a critical factor in her success, providing her with the skills, confidence and connections needed to stand out in a highly competitive field.
“It has really prepared me to set my goals high. It puts you in an environment where you have excellent collaborators who are driven and motivated,” she said. “Exploring new ideas was valuable and contributed to the university and community ecosystem. It's made me want to figure out a way to have my work be more impactful to the communities that I'm in.”
Featured image at top: Lily Stewart (far right) stands with fellow NEXT Innovation Scholars. Photo/provided