November 16, 2015

Bach, Birch named University Innovation Fellows

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale students Daniel Bach and Thomas Birch are now part of a national program that is providing them with tools and knowledge to help increase entrepreneurship, creativity, innovation and design thinking among fellow students. 

Bach, a senior cinema and photography major from Batavia, and Birch, a sophomore computer engineering major from Naples, Fla., are among the newest University Innovation Fellows selected by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter.)  They recently completed their initial training with Epicenter, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University and VentureWell. 

Birch is an Eagle Scout and participant in SIU’s Leadership Development Program. Bach, a non-traditional student and owner of Video Grouch Bag, is currently working on a film with funding from a REACH grant. 

Bach and Birch are among 150 students selected from 52 higher education institutions in the United States to join the program. In all, the program has in the past four years trained more than 450 students from 130 institutions to be agents of change, according to Humera Fasihuddin, co-leader of the University Innovation Fellows program. 

“Fellows understand the big picture and use their resourcefulness, creativity and national network to make measurable gains on campus, both in the number of resources and the students served by the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem,” she said. 

“The fellows themselves are learning to be leaders and creative problem solvers, and they’re bringing other students along with them on this journey to make a positive difference at their schools and in their communities,” Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, program co-leader, added. 

Bach and Birch were sponsored by university faculty and administrators and chosen through a twice-annual application process. After selection, they went through six weeks of online training culminating with attending the University Innovation Fellows Annual Meetup in Silicon Valley.  Throughout the year, they participate in a variety of events and conferences around the country – sharing, networking and meeting with Epicenter mentors and academic and industry leaders. 

The membership application proposal from Bach and Birch states that SIU has many innovation and entrepreneurship resources for students but those resources are often underused. The two men say their goal is helping bring about a communal adoption of the campus resources in the current “information age.” They plan to create a market for the available resources at SIU by hosting innovation and entrepreneurship collaboration activities and by opening open a dialogue between colleges using the resource network. 

They also hope to work with university administrators, faculty and students to help create a core curriculum by researching, designing classes and classrooms that foster innovation, creativity and engagement relevant for real- world problems and working to expand module learning classes for hands-on innovation and learning. Finally, they hope to eventually join the various innovation spaces and resources around campus into a large centralized campus “makerspace.” 

They encourage students to get involved with their work and campus entrepreneurship and suggest one way to do so is by attending Saluki Entrepreneur Corps meetings held each Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center, 1740 Innovation Drive in Carbondale. 

“At SIU, the Innovation Fellows Initiative is part of an overall campus economic development strategy to increase entrepreneurship and innovation activities. In tandem with the Saluki Ventures student business incubator and the Saluki Entrepreneur Corps, SIU’s innovation fellows have created the Saluki Innovation Series, which includes a variety of events, presentations and learning experiences for students,” Kyle Harfst, executive director of economic development and of the SIU Research Park, said. 

Learn more about the University Innovation Fellows program at For additional information about entrepreneurship activities and initiatives at SIU, email