March 01, 2016

Four students selected as ‘innovation fellows’

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill.  -- Four Southern Illinois University Carbondale students will participate in a national leadership program that provides them with information and tools to foster innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship and design thinking with their fellow students. 

Selected as some of the newest University Innovation Fellows by the National Center for Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter) were:

  • Mara Decker, a sophomore business management major from Flat Rock
  • Deborrius Jeffries, a junior organizational communication and public relations major from Memphis, Tenn.
  • Trevor Jones, a junior industrial design major from Effingham with a minor in marketing
  • Asia Lee, an MBA student from Chicago 

The four are among 155 students from 47 institutions of higher learning who will have the opportunity to participate in the Silicon Valley Meetup, an intense training experience for University Innovation Fellows that will take place March 17-21 at Stanford University. They and the students chosen as fellows during the fall 2015 semester will take part in business and innovation immersion experiences at Google and at Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design ( 

They will participate in workshops and learning exercises covering topics such as movement building, student innovation spaces, learning experience designs and innovative models for positive change in higher education. Online training and other opportunities will be provided to them throughout the year to help them learn, grow and share. 

The National Science Foundation funds the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter). Stanford University and VentureWell direct the center, which provides guidance, information and support to help undergraduate students develop technology and innovation to benefit society and the economy and engage fellow students in such efforts. 

SIU faculty and administrators supported the applications by the four students to join the program. In turn, the students will work with administrators, faculty, staff and fellow students to create and foster opportunities for research, innovation, creativity and seeking solutions to real-world problems. 

Decker, Jeffries, Jones and Lee are already hard at work on various projects and ideas.  Jones works as an undergraduate assistant to Aaron Scott, associate professor of design, in the School of Art and Design’s Subtractive and Additive Manufacturing Lab, and his first project involves the work there. 

He hopes to make the campus more sustainable by helping the lab acquire plastic recycling equipment that would take used plastic and convert it into 3-D printable materials for use by students and faculty. He said this equipment would expand research opportunities and encourage collaboration between various students and departments. In the future, he foresees that this would allow mycelium to be 3-D printed as a replacement to plastic. The substance would be strong and durable like plastic but would be biodegradable. 

“Essentially, what we plan to have at the end is a 100 percent biodegradable, 3-D printed alternative to plastics, as well as the ability to recycle used plastics for 3-D printing purposes,” Jones said.  

He noted that a student team is now being developed to move the concept forward and they welcome other microbiology, mechanical and electrical engineering and business students to join them. 

Decker, Jeffries and Lee also are working on projects to foster student innovation and entrepreneurship for the benefit of society and SIU. Students can find out more about and get involved in various projects by attending meetings of the Saluki Entrepreneur Corps, held at 5 p.m. each Monday at the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center, 1740 Innovation Drive in Carbondale. 

“We are pleased to now have seven very active University Innovation Fellows at SIU,” Kyle L. Harfst, Research Park executive director, said. “Their ideas and energy are limitless and they are pushing us to continue to develop a culture of innovation that impacts all aspects of campus activities from maker days to class projects to technology business start-ups.” 

Learn more about the University Innovation Fellows program at For additional information about the Saluki Entrepreneur Corps or other entrepreneurship activities and initiatives at SIU, email, call 618/453-2083 or visit