Vincent Arena ’17 and Zaire Johnson ’18 have been named University Innovation Fellows.

Rensselaer 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 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.”

This month, 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.