Four students’ passion for creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship lead to outstanding honor

Four UAB students have been named University Innovation fellows by Stanford University.
Written by: Maegan Royal
Media contact: Alicia Rohan

UniversityfellowsjoomlaIn the fall of 2018, 358 students from 96 higher education institutions in 16 countries were named University Innovation fellows — a prestigious honor that empowers students to be agents of change for their schools. Four UAB Honors College students from the University of Alabama at Birmingham were among those chosen.

Jason Zhang, a sophomore majoring in biomedical engineering from Montgomery, Alabama; Marrielle Santiago, a junior majoring in neuroscience from Mobile, Alabama; Annisha Borah, a sophomore majoring in civil engineering from Florence, Alabama; and Zahrah Abdulrauf, a sophomore double-majoring in art and applied math from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, each share a common goal to make a lasting impact at UAB through design thinking, a cornerstone of the fellowship.

Molly Wasko, Ph.D., associate dean for Research, Innovation and Faculty Success

in the Collat School of Business, believes the students selected for this role embody tremendous leadership and creative abilities.

“This is the fourth year UAB has partnered with the Stanford University Innovation Fellows program,” Wasko said. “These amazing students take a leadership role at UAB to create an innovative mindset among the student body, including responsibility for the student-run Maker Space in Stern Library.”

University Innovation Fellows is a global program run by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, or This fellowship empowers student leaders to increase campus engagement with innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity and design thinking.

Zhang, Santiago, Borah and Abdulrauf believe the way news and events are communicated to the student body is ineffective. Using design thinking, a creative approach to solving unstructured problems, they have determined the solution to this problem is target and ad populum marketing.

The first concept they constructed to remedy this issue is a service called Project Blazer. Project Blazer is an interdisciplinary initiative that would make students more aware of opportunities and events on campus by using targeted marketing combined with ad populum marketing to deliver news that captures students’ interests directly to them. This service would also provide student organizations and students studying media, graphic design and marketing an opportunity to gain experience in their fields.

The second concept they designed to communicate ideas and opportunities to students is an Innovation Road Map, which would make students’ ideas accessible and advertise all resources within the university for prototyping and entrepreneurial exploration.

Zhang says participation in this fellowship has impacted him in a positive way.

“It showed me simply having ideas isn’t enough,” Zhang said. “I have learned how to think like an entrepreneur. I’m actively identifying ways to apply my ideas and take them further down the path. I thought I wanted to be a researcher studying basic science; but after this fellowship, I know I want to be the bridge that brings knowledge into the market by being a translational scientist or engineer.”

The students from UAB will have the opportunity to attend the Eastern Hemisphere meetup, which will be held in Dubai from April 25-28. At the conference, they will participate in experiential workshops and exercises focused on topics including movement building, innovation spaces, design of learning experiences and new models for change in higher education.

The cohort will officially be pinned University Innovation fellows in a ceremony Monday, Feb. 11, at 4 p.m. at the Collat School of Business Innovation Lab.