College of Engineering

Students enter the Driftmier Engineering Center of the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia in Athens. (Photo/Diondra Powers,

Entrepreneurship and new ideas have become hot topics at the University of Georgia, fostered by programs such as TEDxUGA and Thinc. at UGA. But Gregory Wilson, a doctoral student in the College of Education, saw a gap.

“One thing we didn’t have was an interdisciplinary innovation club or a way for students from different backgrounds to come together and create something,” he said.

Wilson, a University Innovation Fellow sponsored by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University, said he thought there needed to be an organization encouraging students to think innovatively so they could participate and present ideas at programs such as TEDxUGA.

So he founded the What I.F. [Innovation Fellows] Club — an extracurricular approach he learned from the University Innovation Fellows.

“It’s a student-led, almost agent-of-change they call it, kind of initiative on campus,” Wilson said. “It’s really a kind of bottom-up kind of thing where students first get interested.”

Nadia Kellam, an associate professor of engineering and the faculty adviser for the club, said teaching students interdisciplinary and innovative ways of thinking was difficult in the classroom.

“The math and the science, that’s the easy bit,” she said. “We can teach that, it’s pretty black and white for the most part. These other things are hard to teach and hard to get people to really understand.”

Wilson said the club members — nine at the last meeting — are working to promote innovative thinking.

Lauren Flint, a freshman engineering major from Cumming, said she wants to be a Walt Disney Imagineer and to do that she needed to find a way to learn how to hone her innovation skills.

“A lot of the activities that we’ve been doing have been focused more on brainstorming and less about trying to think logically but more about trying to think out-of-the-box and really pull in a lot of different ideas,” she said.

To encourage interdisciplinary students to join the club, Wilson said he hosts the meetings in the Zell B. Miller Learning Center rather than in the College of Engineering.

“Sometimes people are scared off by words like ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation,’” he said. “If you’re a journalist or if you’re an artist you may not think that those things apply to you.”