Alumni Spotlight: Meenu Singh

Meenu graduated this past May and is now working for the University of Maryland. I reached out to hear about the program she is working with and her transition from Maryland student to a Maryland administrator.

You work for the Academy for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Can you tell me more about the program?

Meenu: The Academy for Innovation & Entrepreneurship strives to engage all UMD students in innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) during their time on campus. We do this by embedding I&E methods and tools (such as design thinking and lean startup) into core curriculum across all 12 colleges. The way I like to describe it is that the Academy works to get students thinking creatively in project-based, team-oriented learning experiences. We want to give students the opportunity to work interdisciplinarily to solve problems they’re passionate about.

You are an Innovation Specialist. Awesome title! What exactly does an “Innovation Specialist” do?

Meenu: I’d like to consider myself more of a “Brainstorm Forecaster” or “Dream Engineer” — but, actually, the ambiguity of the title reflects the breadth of my day-to-day activities. In that way, working at the Academy is a lot like working at a startup. My role allows me to engage in a variety of activities that support the I&E movement at UMD: I’ve had the opportunity to do everything from teaching in classes to developing curriculum and projects to hosting weekly campus brainstorming sessions and design challenges, to name a few things. Occasionally, my role includes revamping our student spaces (such as designing our ball-pit ball room) and devising clever ways to prevent people from writing in Sharpie on whiteboard walls.

Another part of this role is getting to experiment with programs and workshops to boost student engagement and empowerment: How do we connect with all 25,000 undergraduate students? How do we make I&E accessible and inviting to all students, regardless of major and/or background? One method I’m prototyping is creating partnerships with departments and student groups (such as the Athletics Dept. Student Advisory Council, SGA, UMD Sustainability) on campus to get I&E to fit more organically into students’ lives. I believe existing models for student voice can benefit by employing human-centered design — that is, designing for the user (students) in mind.

Last year you were a student at Maryland and now you are a part of the Maryland’s administration. In what ways has your experience on campus changed or stayed the same?

Meenu: I’m frequently still mistaken for being a student, which can work to my favor in some instances. For one, it makes engaging with students and seeking their honest opinions much easier and more comfortable, which is important in allowing our department to grow and develop with students in mind. Because I’m not too far removed from being an undergraduate, I’ve been able to leverage existing connections with students, faculty, and administrators around the university to build out and collaborate on Academy initiatives.

I will say that not being a student anymore does provide me with a lot more time to explore the inner workings of the University and to observe how campus systems work from a more holistic level. I’ve learned a lot about faculty and administrator expectations and culture, which has been both interesting and challenging at times. Of course, being a faculty member here also allows me to stay connected to the QUEST program and QUEST students! (shout-out to QUEST’s 190H team, JABBS!).

What is the most rewarding part of your experience in your role with the University?

The best part of this role is getting to work with students. My passion is empowering students to believe in the power of their ideas: Every student should have the creative confidence to forge their own path in whatever realm they wish to impact. While the meanings of “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” have, in my opinion, been diluted to buzzwords (or “bus” words, a.k.a. the words you see on the side of a UMD shuttle bus), the philosophy and methodology behind the movement at the University are important and speak to a need to reconsider how we’re asking students to learn and pursue their passions. At the end of the day, it’s not about getting students to create start-ups, it’s about getting students to create. I hope to continue to work in the field of higher education, bringing creativity into the classroom and making real-world, hands-on experiences the paradigm for learning.

Meenu welcomes anyone to reach out with questions. Email: msingh92@umd.edu

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