Two Elon students named University Innovation Fellows by Stanford

The students join a global community of Fellows charged with increasing campus engagement with innovation, entrepreneurship, design thinking and creativity. 

Two Elon University students have been accepted into the University Innovation Fellows program administered by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattnew Institute of Design, more commonly called 

Gillian Hook, left, and Sydney Thornton have been selected as University Innovation Fellows.
Gillian Hook ’21 and Sydney Thornton ’20 are among 358 students from 96 colleges and universities in 16 countries who have been selected for the program. Hook, originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a Elon Business Fellow who is majoring in accounting. Thornton, a native of Graham, N.C., is a biochemistry major who is minoring in neuroscience.

The program is designed to empower students to become agents of change at their schools, with a focus on helping their peers gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to compete in the economy of the future and make a positive impact on the world. With the addition of the fall 2018 Fellows, the program has trained more than 1,800 students since its creation.

Fellows are sponsored by faculty and administrators as individuals or teams of students, and selected through an application process each year. Following acceptance into the program, schools fund the students to go through six weeks of online training and travel to the University Innovation Fellows Silicon Valley Meetup. Throughout the year, Fellows take part in events and conferences and have opportunities to learn from one another, Stanford mentors, and leaders in academia and industry.

“Through this program, Fellows gain skills, mindsets and knowledge to face complex challenges at their schools and in the world,” said Humera Fasihuddin, co-director of the University Innovation Fellows program. “During training, Fellows analyze their campus ecosystems and identify learning opportunities related to innovation, entrepreneurship, design thinking, and creativity. They work to understand the needs of peers across disciplines and the perspectives of faculty and administrators. Armed with this knowledge and perspective, they design strategies to take advantage of these opportunities for change.”

The two Fellows from Elon will focus on encouraging more students to engage with innovation and entrepreneurship on campus. The goal is to discover why students are not more involved with entrepreneurship courses, maker spaces and other innovative opportunities on campus and develop methods to help increase participation.

Hook and Thornton will have their own project to tackle, but will also be working collaboratively with Fellows from Elon on other initiatives. “Sydney and I are still deciding what we want to do for our project this year, but we believe it will involve joining business students and science students together to learn from each other and create new opportunities on campus,” Hook said. 

Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, co-director of the University Innovation Fellows program, said that higher education must change more quickly to meet the needs of students and industry. 

As the key stakeholders of higher education, students should be active participants of a change process that helps them learn the skills and mindsets necessary to create the future,” Britos Cavagnaro said. “The students who participate in our program are ideally poised to help accelerate the pace of change at their schools. They are highly motivated to make progress quickly, as they’re only on campus for a short time, and they care deeply about their schools and the experience of all students.”

Learn more about the program at