UC students create change through innovation fellowship

Three Bearcats chosen for the prestigious Stanford University program

Three students from the University of Cincinnati have been named University Innovation Fellows.

The program is run by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design and is designed to empower students to become agents of change at their higher education institutions.

UC fellows from this year include:

  • Maxwell Kemats, economics major from Salem, Ohio, University Honors Program, Cincinnatus Scholar, Lindner College of Business, class of 2026
  • Yale Miller, computer science major from Toledo, Ohio, University Honors Program, College of Engineering and Applied Science, class of 2026
  • Caroline Berger, industrial design major from Columbus, Ohio, University Honors Program, College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, class of 2026.

University Innovation Fellows are nominated by faculty and administrators as individuals or teams of students and are selected each year through an application process. Following acceptance into the program, students participate in a six-week online training experience where they learn to analyze their campus ecosystems and identify opportunities for change related to innovation, design thinking and creativity. 

young women smiling wearing a blouse

Caroline Berger/photo provided

Throughout their training, teams are mentored by a program alum appointed by the Stanford team, and coaching from their on-campus faculty champion. At UC, Aaron Bradley, associate professor and director of the NEXT Innovation Scholars program, is faculty champion for the University Innovation Fellows program.

“Students who enter this program are charged with exploring their campus landscape through a human-centered design lens and looking for opportunities to introduce innovation and make enhancements to the student experience,” explains Bradley. “As their faculty champion, my role is to empower the fellows to do their best work and have the biggest possible impact. It’s a balance of challenging them to think boldly while making sure their ideas are viable and aligned with UC’s Next Lives Here strategic direction.”

A total of 261 students have been named 2023 University Innovation Fellows. They represent 68 higher education institutions in 15 countries.

young man wearing a dark colored t-shirt smiles

Maxwell Kemats/photo provided.

“It’s an honor and very much a privilege to be part of the University Innovation Fellows program,” says Berger. “It’s a wonderful training program that I hope will lead us into a lifetime of resources and that will equip us with important design thinking and human-centric design skills so we can be catalysts for change at UC and beyond.”

The program challenges students to understand the needs of peers across disciplines and the perspectives of faculty and administrators, and then apply this knowledge to design new educational opportunities for their peers. After training, fellows implement the projects they crafted and continue to serve as leaders at their schools until graduation, often staying connected to their projects as alumni. They serve as advocates for lasting change, lending the much-needed student voice to the conversations about the future of higher education.

“I feel like the University Innovation Fellows program really empowers me to give back to the community,” says Kemats. “I am inspired to learn more about innovation and refine my skills and mindset to make meaningful change a reality.”

Miller says he feels like he and his colleagues entered the UIF program well prepared because of the camaraderie they developed while working on projects as part of the NEXT innovation Scholars program. 

"I think it has been a great experience working as a team and I think what we have done as NEXT Innovation Scholars has prepared us to succeed at UIF in a way that's unprecedented. Typically, teams come together in UIF and they don't know each other and they aren't necessarily experienced in the kind of work that they are going to be trained on. But for us we have already worked on mini projects with NEXT Innovation and we were ready to run from the beginning."

A smiling young man wearing a light blue sweater

Yale Miller/photo provided

This is the third year that UC students have been accepted to the UIF program. Previous UC UIF teams have created an interactive design thinking and innovation class module now taught in every UHP honors gateway course and a series of design thinking workshops for Cincinnati area high school students in UC’s Upward Bound program. 

Learn more about the UC fellows from 2021 and 2022 online.

Berger, Miller and Kemats say they are excited to develop a project that will benefit the campus ecosystem. They have until April to complete the project and will present their work at a conference of University Innovation Fellows from across the world in the Netherlands.

“I’m very excited to see the impact that Caroline, Max, and Yale have moving forward," says Bradley. "They’ve joined a global community of peers who are change-makers on their campuses. Being associated with the Stanford design school is an honor, and gaining access to the resources and network this brings levels them up.” 

Featured top image shows Yale Miller (far left standing) with Max Kemats (center pointing) and Caroline Berger standing nearby during a meeting of the NEXT Innovation Scholars. Photo provided.

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