The 2019-2020 SIU University Innovation Fellows, shown during their recent educational trip to Austria, are, from left, Grant Depoy, Jacob Bolton, Emma Johns, Adam Vogel, Karla Berry (director of the Center for Teaching Excellence), Benjamin Bradley, Nelson Fernandes and Prem Rana. (Photo provided)

April 15, 2020

SIU student innovators hosting online interactive workshop

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A group of Southern Illinois University Carbondale students is hard at work serving as “agents of positive change” and they’re inviting the public to get involved and lend their voices and expertise to a series of projects.

Everyone is welcome to join several of SIU’s University Innovation Fellows (UIF) for the free, interactive Online Design Thinking Workshop, set from noon to 2:45 p.m. on Friday, April 17.

Focusing on four topics

The session will begin with an overview of the projects presented by four Salukis who have been among those working on special ventures all year. Interactive virtual breakout sessions for each project will follow, during which participants will work together to create prototypes for the projects and then regroup to discuss session results and outcomes, according to Nelson Fernandes, a Skokie junior mechanical engineering student specializing in engineering, sustainability and mathematics.

The workshop sessions, along with brief descriptions and the names of the student presenters, include:

  • “Exploring a Green Roof’s Educational and Outreach Opportunities” led by Fernandes. His project involves revitalizing and modernizing the agriculture building’s green roof by implementing an autonomous irrigation system, wind turbine and data acquisition device to showcase vegetation from Southern Illinois as well as incorporating university research in the agricultural and engineering fields. The goal is improving energy efficiency and water runoff while promoting full use of roofs as a cross-disciplinary innovative space.
  • “Redesigning a Makerspace for an Online Community” with Prem Rana, a junior from Bolingbrook, who has double majors in computer science with artificial intelligence specialization and radio, television and digital media with an audio production specialization. Rana is working on the IDEAL Lab, a reimagined makerspace hub that combines all the best tools on campus into one centralized place. He’s envisioning a convenient, multidisciplinary area to encourage and expand design thinking campus-wide.
  • Two separate and unique workshops are being presented by students who have been working together on a much larger and more comprehensive project. Grant Depoy, a senior forestry major with hydrology specialization from Macomb, and Jacob Bolton, a senior forestry major from Peoria, are using the Evergreen Community Model to create inclusive platforms for community-engagement in environmental stewardship initiatives including: an international community garden, family-based environmental programs and a community-based landscape management plan. They’ve also established the Student Sustainability Coalition, a new student group to establish a cohesive student voice advocating sustainable university resource use and development.

Their workshops, which each focus on separate components of their overall project, are:

  • “Co-creating Residential Programs for Resiliency,” presented by Depoy.
  • “Growing Trees Together to Steward Our Earth,” led by Bolton.

An overview of this week’s workshops is available online.

Joining the meeting

The student presenters encourage pre-registration for the workshops. Signup is available at Anyone may participate, even without signing up in advance, by joining the Zoom meeting at

Empowering students to make change

Created by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation with a five-year National Science Foundation grant,  the UIF program’s goal is empowering students to become leaders of change in higher education. The seven 2019-2020 Saluki Innovation Fellows represent the largest contingent chosen from SIU to participate in in the program operated by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (

Since their selection last fall the Saluki Innovation Fellows have participated in six weeks of interactive online training. They’ve also joined in various events and activities on the SIU campus and spent numerous hours researching, getting input and honing their projects.

International involvement

An immersive learning trip to Salzburg, Austria in February led by Karla Berry, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, added a new layer to the learning experience for the students. Hosted by the Fachhochschule Salzburg University of Applied Sciences, the U.I.F. Alps Meet Up featured design-thinking workshops, presentations, team-bonding and tests of the participants’ critical thinking skills.

The collaborative learning event with students and faculty from across the globe was “eye-opening” and “inspirational,” Fernandes said. Fernandes, Depoy, and Bolton, along with some Austrian students, analyzed the Salzburg university’s parking situation and sought solutions. The entire process helped him look at his own project through new eyes, too.

“I learned so much about the value of working on an interdisciplinary team, using the design science process to extract our collective wisdom and prototype solutions for each real world problem we confronted,” Depoy said.

A number of students and faculty members from Austria will also be joining in Friday’s online workshop.

You can play a vital role

The idea behind the program is bringing about sustainable, positive change on campus. Even with the move to off-campus learning for the rest of the semester, the students “are not letting this pandemic get in the way of their work,” Berry said. “They’re bringing people together and getting students, alumni and other people involved in a virtual way.”

In some ways, the new protocols are helping the students make their projects even better, giving them time to focus, rethink, and bring in more people for collaboration and input, according to Rana and Fernandes.

For instance, Rana said he had already been trying to get students and alumni involved in planning the makerspace project and having to work on the project remotely is giving him a new perspective on how to assure that the space is truly accessible to as many people as possible.

“The Fellows really are change agents and they are developing their own personal projects to help improve and innovate at SIU,” Berry said. “The projects all have an academic component and many involve an element of sustainability. All are collaborative projects and the students are working with other students, faculty, staff, alumni, administrators, registered student organizations, Student Affairs and numerous academic units to make them happen. It’s really impressive.”

Additional details

More information, including updated details regarding the project plans based on input from the workshops, is available at Visit SIU’s University Innovation Fellows website, email or call 618/453-6754 to learn more about the program.