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Student Fellows Discuss How Working at CAI Allowed for Personal and Professional Growth

Woman standing to side of podium speaking with audience.
Sahitya Krishnan answers questions from the audience during her lightning presentation at the 2024 Student Showcase held at the Center for Academic Innovation.

Student Fellow Showcase spotlights contributions of and reflections from many of the center’s 55 Student Fellows

Sean Corp, Communications Lead

For many Student Fellows who join the Center for Academic Innovation, it is their first professional experience. It is also one they don’t tend to forget. The Student Fellows program at the center offers undergraduate and graduate students opportunities to engage in innovation projects, from augmented reality experiences in online education to user research in educational software, copyright law, and project management. 

For the 55 students currently engaged in the Fellowship Program, the Student Fellow Showcase provided an opportunity to share how they’ve contributed to projects and learned skills they can use to further their academic and professional careers. 

Representing Student Fellows at the showcase, held in the center’s office at 317 Maynard Street, Sam Deleon-Castillo kicked things off by saying what she most appreciated about the experience was the opportunity to make mistakes because those mistakes allowed her to learn and grow. Deleon-Castillo, a communications fellow, said this emphasis on personal growth and learning is a key aspect of the Student Fellows program and is what sets it apart from other professional experiences. 

In her role at the center, Deleon-Castillo spoke with many fellows, talking to them about their school life, work, and interests outside of the classroom. While not every fellow had an opportunity to speak at the event, Deleon-Castillo emphasized the sense of belonging and appreciation they all felt as contributors and how seriously the center staff took their roles as mentors.

“Mistakes are encouraged here because those are learning opportunities, and this is a learning space,” she said. “This is my first professional job that wasn’t serving coffee or anything like that. And I got to learn important skills and do great work I can take with me, and that is true of so many Student Fellows I’ve spoken with.”

Crowd of people watching a presentation.
More than 15 Student Fellows delivered lightning presentations at the 2024 Student Showcase held at the Center for Academic Innovation.

The center employed Student Fellows and Graduate Student Fellows from 10 of the University of Michigan’s schools and colleges, led by 15 students from LSA, 14 from the School of Information, and eight from the College of Engineering this academic year. Still, others hail from the Law School, Marsal Family School of Education, Stamps School of Art & Design, School of Music, Theatre & Dance, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and the Rackham Graduate School. 

Students supported the work of various initiatives at the center, including building and maintaining innovative educational online courses, educational research, and educational technology tools that support student success. It includes two participants from the Learning Experience Design Residency Program, a partnership with the Marsal Family School of Education. 

These unique opportunities for students make the center stand out, said James DeVaney, associate vice provost for academic innovation and the founding executive director at the center. 

“Many institutions are creating online learning experiences or tools like ours, but what stands out year over year when I talk to peers at other universities is our Student Fellows program,” DeVaney said. “We build the future of education with students, not simply for them. Co-design is at the center of everything we do.”

“When I was a graduating student at Michigan, thinking about educational innovation and looking for jobs, the market didn’t exist. There weren’t places where you could do this type of work. Now, many companies, institutions, and government agencies are invested in understanding how people learn. Our center is proud to offer meaningful professional experience to students and support growth in these fields and across sectors. ”

The showcase consisted of a series of lightning talk presentations, both live and pre-recorded for students who couldn’t attend because of class commitments, where Student Fellows would talk about their big work projects, talk about their growth while working in the role, and reflect on what they’ve learned and how the position has informed their professional path. 

Person points to data on poster as he discusses his findings to another person.
Yangyang Wang, right, talks to Jessi Kittel about his Student Fellow Project during the 2024 Student Showcase.

Terry Yuan, a first-year School of Information student, discussed conducting user research on Problem Roulette, an exam prep tool, and how those insights might improve the tool in future development cycles. Sadia Rahman of LSA spoke about discovering a passion for project management while working on an augmented reality experience in an online course that trains nurses in life-saving skills and interventions. 

Sahitya Krishnan, an online community-building fellow, said her fellowship connected her to her family of educators. 

“My work to understand online learners through a DEI allowed me to connect to my roots. I was able to identify more closely with my Tamil heritage, and I come from a family of educators. My mother and grandmother were both educators, and I feel more deeply connected because I better understand how their work makes such a difference.” 

Since the Student Fellow program launched in 2015 with 13 user experience and software development students, the program has grown to more than 350 students. Student Fellows have joined the center representing each of U-M’s 19 schools and colleges. The center actively recruits Student Fellows for various teams at the center in the summer and throughout the academic school year. Visit the Student Programs page for more information on the Fellowship program, and check out the careers page to see open Student Fellow positions. 

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