Two Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Students Named University Innovation Fellows

National program trains student leaders to create new opportunities for their peers to engage with innovation, entrepreneurship, design thinking, and creativity

March 9, 2017

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students Vincent Arena ’17 and Zaire Johnson ’18 have been named University Innovation Fellows.

Troy, N.Y. — Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) students Zaire Johnson ’18, computer and systems engineering, and Vincent Arena ’17, mechanical engineering and design, innovation, and society, have been named University Innovation Fellows by the Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (

The Rensselaer students were nominated by the Paul J. ’69 and Kathleen M. Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship as well as the Emerging Ventures Ecosystem (EVE) at Rensselaer. This year, 224 students from 58 higher education institutions in seven countries have been named University Innovation Fellows. With the addition of the new fellows this year, the program has trained 1,000 students at 185 schools since its creation in 2014.

“The University Innovation Fellows program gives students the training and opportunities to become agents of change at their schools,” said Jason Kuruzovich, academic director of the Severino Center. “Fellows assist and motivate their peers to pursue innovation and entrepreneurial efforts that can promote economic growth and positively impact the world around them.”

In mid-March 2017, the students will have the opportunity to participate in the Silicon Valley Meetup, where fellows from across the country will take part in immersive experiences at Stanford, Google, Microsoft, and other Silicon Valley organizations. They will participate in experiential workshops and exercises focused on topics including movement building, innovation spaces, design of learning experiences, and new models for change in higher education.

To accomplish this, fellows advocate for lasting institutional change and create opportunities for students to engage with innovation, entrepreneurship, design thinking and creativity at their schools. Fellows design innovation spaces, start entrepreneurship organizations, host experiential learning events, and work with faculty to develop new courses.

“We are fortunate to have these passionate and driven student leaders who are actively participating in shaping our current and future campus entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem,” said Esther Vargas, director of EVE. “The training and peer collaboration opportunities that they are receiving as University Innovation Fellows will result in measurable gains for the Institute and for them personally and professionally.”

Johnson and Arena are creating a “wall of opportunity” display that can aid in connecting students with entrepreneurial or project needs outside of the classroom; promoting additional entrepreneurial course offerings; linking students to campus resources such as the Forge Makerspace, the Severino Center, and EVE; designing a future Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond student orientation event to teach freshmen about entrepreneurship; and creating the Design Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Society on campus.

Johnson was drawn to the opportunity to have a direct impact on innovation on Rensselaer’s campus and aims to be a strategic and integral partner. On campus, she is involved with RPI's Society of Women Engineers, Pi Beta Phi Fraternity, and RPI 91.5 FM radio station. Off campus, she is a school-year intern for the IRS and General Electric - Renewable Energy.

Arena wants to use his creativity, passion for technology, and drive to help others at Rensselaer pursue a career as an entrepreneur. He has pursued many side projects that align with his interests, such as a cradle-to-cradle 3-D printer filament, hydroponic furniture, a mood-based social app, and meditation/inspiration virtual reality experiences. Arena plans on pursuing the development of Sanguine Diagnostics, a low-cost, paper diagnostics delivery platform, full-time upon graduation in May 2017.

To date, seven Rensselaer students have been named University Innovation Fellows. In addition to Johnson and Arena, this list includes Meghan Olson ’14, M.S.’15, Jordan Dunne ’17, Ray Parker ’17, Jim Boulter ’17, and Hayley Roy Gill ’19.

The Rensselaer students selected as University Innovation Fellows exemplify The New Polytechnic, an emerging paradigm for teaching, learning, and research at Rensselaer. The New Polytechnic emphasizes and supports collaboration across disciplines, sectors, and regions to address the great global challenges of our day, using the most advanced tools and technologies, many of which are developed at Rensselaer. Research at Rensselaer addresses some of the world’s most pressing technological challenges—from energy security and sustainable development to biotechnology and human health. The New Polytechnic is transformative in the global impact of research, in its innovative pedagogy, and in the lives of students at Rensselaer.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. For nearly 200 years, Rensselaer has been defining the scientific and technological advances of our world. Rensselaer faculty and alumni represent 85 members of the National Academy of Engineering, 17 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 25 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 8 members of the National Academy of Medicine, 8 members of the National Academy of Inventors, and 5 members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, as well as 6 National Medal of Technology winners, 5 National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With 7,000 students and nearly 100,000 living alumni, Rensselaer is addressing the global challenges facing the 21st century—to change lives, to advance society, and to change the world. To learn more, go to

Written By Julie Tracy
Press Contact Julie Tracy Moynehan
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