Blog / Serendipity and the UI Innovation Fellowship

Recent Blog Posts

October 11, 2019
Posted by Christina Ngo
October 9, 2019
Posted by Christina Ngo
August 13, 2019
Posted by Pooja Addla Hari
July 9, 2019
Posted by Lukas Wenrick

While a formal welcome meeting with the university president is standard for all Fellows, there would be many occasions for additional unscheduled mini-forums – after all, we share a common building and the Office of University Initiatives is actually a unit within the Office of the President. I considered myself, “warned,” about the potential for random trivia to construct the basis of brief and chance encounters with President Dr. Professor Michael Crow (aka MMC). There were tales of Fellows being stumped by his inquiries into the origin of elevators and requests to hastily solve various mathematical problems. Our/My “plan” was for the “chance” encounter to serendipitously happen with at least two of “us” (Fellows) present so that one could organize a subtle distraction while the other furiously “Googled” and then texted or somehow slipped brief acceptable responses to the other. We knew it wouldn’t really work, but it was entertaining and in good spirit to think about the “plan.” And then there was the first chance-encounter.

Of course, I was alone. And of course, the question he posed to me was not on the imagined “list.” The question wasn’t even trivia, as a matter of fact. The question was ultimately personal, explicitly subjective, and completely caught me not optimally prepared, nonetheless. We were at the launch of the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at the newly unveiled Beus Center for Law and Society in downtown Phoenix. His question, “What do you hope to get out of this Fellowship?” was definitely not meant to be sustainability science. I did, mind you, successfully navigate a stiff competition for this assignment and surely “Why do you want this job?” was part of the interview process. Still, the inquiry was loaded, felt weighty, and begged my hesitance to recklessly respond with anything less than a comprehensive (30-second) monologue fully encompassing my education, professional accomplishments and aspirations, knowledge of the instructive potential of the ASU ecosystem, and prescient of his mentoring capacity should I appropriately highlight relevant points of intersection between our past, current, and future. Easy-peasy, right?!? Wrong! (inside joke – #TL)

While I was neither a bumbling boogabear nor a silent sap, I was not who I expected to be in the moment. Yes, my aspirations for the award-winning retort were a bit lofty, but “Why?” would such a question cause so much angst.

Part of the challenge is that the University Innovation Fellowship offers so much that it is hard to choose which of the main benefits I want to highlight at any given moment. Because innovation takes so many shapes and involves so many dimensions, early and mid-career professionals alike are drawn to the diverse Fellowship charge of disrupting traditional higher education administration and delivery. Another part of the challenge is that the Fellowship is still revealing itself in terms of opportunity. One minute, my portfolio includes comprehensive planning for visiting scholars from Ghana; the next minute, I am facilitating design thinking workshops for local leaders; and the next minute, I am leading dynamic global conversations about how the institution can innovatively respond to the glaring needs in refugee higher education. And an even more salient part of the challenge is that as a new mother, I must establish professional goals that both promote and allow an appropriate, though often elusive, work-life balance.

I will not end this blog post with my answer to MMC’s question; suffice it to say that my reply was satisfactory and led smoothly into his formal welcome later in the Fall. I even came prepared to our scheduled meeting with an aged undergraduate photo of myself embracing Cornell President Emeritus Frank H. T. Rhodes, who served as my president at Cornell and who more recently provided the inspiration for ASU’s New American University model. I will, however, state that my encounter at the law school opening renewed my commitment to sensitively keep the question of Fellowship goals in the forefront of my mind and to actively work to continuously construct the most suitable response for my overall personal and professional development. I do know that this Fellowship was absolutely meant to be, what I would call true serendipity. With a host of accomplished Fellowship alumni now in my network, I have a rich variety of individuals and experiences to tap for insight on maximizing and personalizing its benefit.

Blog / Serendipity and the Ui Innovation Fellowship