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NDSU launches orientation activity to retain STEM students

Posted on 9/10/2015

David Wells
NDSU is one of 20 higher education institutions participating in a new national initiative called #uifresh, which stands for University Innovation Freshmen. Participating universities are introducing incoming freshmen to design thinking, entrepreneurship and innovation in order to attract and retain more students in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

As part of the initiative, NDSU hosted "I3: Ignite Innovative Ideas" Aug. 24 during Welcome Week on campus. Students relaxed on hammocks and discussed innovative entrepreneurial activities on campus and in the community. They then participated in a design thinking challenge to create a best and worst feature or change. In doing so, the students learned to identify needs of "customers" and how their ideas could be solutions. 

The #uifresh initiative was created by the University Innovation Fellows to combat STEM attrition in the United States. According to a report published by the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, about 60 percent of students who arrive at college intending to major in STEM subjects switch to other subjects, often in their first year. The initiative was launched on March 23, during the White House Science Fair as part of a White House collection of initiatives to further enhance STEM in the U.S.

NDSU's University Innovation Fellows team has become one of the most dynamic campus groups in the program. NDSU's participation has grown from one fellow in 2013-14 to four in 2014-15 to seven in 2015-16.

"At the start, the first fellow candidate was selected from observations of his outstanding innovation demonstrated in Bison Microventure," explained David Wells, professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering and adviser for NDSU's Bison Microventure innovation team. "That worked so well that the second year, nominees were selected largely from the same source. Now, we use the existing University Innovation Fellows team as the recruiting and screening committee for new fellows, and team now includes students from four of NDSU's eight colleges."

The University Innovation Fellows team launched NDSU into the #uifresh movement in spring 2015. The action led to three NDSU students being invited to Washington, D.C., in August. Jordan Brummond, Andrew Dalman and Drew Spooner visited the White House for National Demo Day, taking a leadership role in #uifresh activities.

"Entrepreneurship is widely recognized as the more effective means for creating new jobs," Wells said. "The most effective sources of new entrepreneurs are young people who are encouraged to be innovative and then to develop their ideas into viable new business enterprises. So, we strive to instill an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit in our students - certainly in STEM disciplines, but also in all corners of our campus."

In addition to the I3 event, an NDSU student team of fellows is visiting a variety freshman classes to further introduce design thinking and a mindset of innovation and entrepreneurship to entering students. The team also is developing other initiatives to stimulate innovation among NDSU students.

The initiative's original 10 institutions are:


Clark Atlanta University

Michigan Technological University

NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering

Union College

University of Florida

University of Minnesota

University of Oklahoma

University of Virginia

William Jewell College

These 10 institutions also recently joined the initiative:

Clemson University

Florida Institute of Technology

Howard University

James Madison University

New Mexico State University

Temple University

Texas A&M University

Universidad del Turabo

University of Delaware

University of Pittsburgh

The University Innovation Fellows program is run by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation, known as Epicenter. It is funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University and VentureWell. The program empowers students to become change agents in higher education who help their peers develop an entrepreneurial mindset and creative confidence.

For more information, go to

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