Student Fellows Discuss Hands-on Learning Experience at DIG

Onawa Gardiner, Marketing Specialist

For over a year the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) within the Office of Academic Innovation (AI) has facilitated partnerships with students from a diverse range of disciplines on campus as part of the DIG Student Fellows Program.

To provide a comprehensive perspective for potential program applicants, we sat down with many of our Student Fellows who shared their experiences as a part of the program.

This immersive program aims to provide U-M students with hands-on experience in areas such as user experience design, software development and innovation advocacy.

“There are so many different kinds of disciplines that work regularly with each other and I think it helps everyone here understand the bigger picture.” – Naomi Hernandez, Data Analysis Fellow

DIG Student Fellows assist in fostering educational software innovations and working with user communities in order to grow tools arising out of faculty-led research groups to maturity. In doing so, Student Fellows gain a first-hand perspective on the practices and processes that are used in professional settings.

Students and staff working at standing desks

“This environment gives you that feel of working in a start-up, of working in an actual industry but you’re not overwhelmed by it. It helps you learn more.” – Akshay Potnis, User Experience Design Fellow

Each Student Fellow is paired with a formal mentor within DIG who provides guidance, facilitates connections between Fellows and the larger student community within DIG and oversees the Fellow’s overall experience. Through this mentorship and hands-on practice, DIG Fellows are able to have an individualized, interactive learning experience, which enriches their overall education and time at U-M.

“DIG is a program that understands and appreciates the ways that learning happens…It’s been really interesting that the work I’ve done here at DIG is bridging some of the work I’m doing in the School of Education.” – Lena Carew, Innovation Advocacy Fellow

Lena Carew

In addition to hands-on learning and individual mentorship, DIG Fellows have the opportunity to see their work incorporated into active projects and used to shape the future of teaching and learning within U-M and beyond.

“There are a lot of opportunities here to do work that has a social impact. The ECoach project and DIG, in general, are all working on projects that help students, advisors or faculty in some way. We are testing them in real time so you get to have this tangible measurable impact right away, which is something I don’t think a lot of people get to do.”  – Jessamine Bartley-Matthews, User Experience Fellow

Students writing on whiteboard

We are currently looking for Student Fellows to work in software development, graphic design, user experience design, data analysis and innovation advocacy. For more details on DIG Fellowships and to apply, visit our student opportunities page.

Students Share 7 Tips to Optimize the Internship and Fellow Experience

Onawa Gardiner, Marketing Specialist

Internship and Fellowship opportunities serve as important catalysts for students to implement their learning into real-world experience. They provide a stepping stone into the workforce, preparing students for professions and enabling them to practice, strengthen and hone their skills while exploring new experiences to complement and enhance their course work.

At DEI, we offer internship and Fellowship opportunities throughout the year, including the Student Fellows Program through the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG). This program facilitates partnerships between students and faculty by having U-M students work directly on educational software innovations that are housed within DIG, collaborating with DEI staff as well as faculty partners to assist in growing these initiatives to maturity.

DIG Student Fellows Dana Demsky, a Graphic Design Fellow,  and Jessamine Bartley-Matthews, a User Experience Design Fellow, shared their best tips for a successful internship or fellowship experience. Additionally, they described the impact the DIG Student Fellows Program had on their educational journey.  

Dana Demsky presents in front of TV screen

1. On preparing for the Fellowship experience

Dana: Congratulations! You got the fellowship! Before starting, make sure you prepare yourself professionally. This is a great opportunity to learn and grow professionally so you want to ensure you are taking it seriously.

Jessamine: If you’re anything like me, the moment you heard you’d gotten the Fellowship at DIG was an incredible mix of excitement and anxiety. It was so thrilling to have the chance to join such an amazing team. Own your new-ness and take stock of your talents, and then figure out what you’d like to improve. Having goals in mind will help you learn, learn, learn.

2. On what to expect on the first day (and for the semester)

Dana: What to expect for the first day? Expect nothing, but of yourself. Expect to be on time. Expect to give it your all. And, most importantly, expect to have a positive attitude that shows you are ready to start a great Fellowship experience.

Jessamine: Recently, a friend of mine said that she always strives to live a life full of ambition without expectation. I think it’s the perfect approach for design, because you never know what kind of interesting curve balls and challenges might come your way. There are some days where you’ll work through an interaction and realize you’ve nailed it on the first try; other days, you’ll sketch ten different approaches on the whiteboard only to realize that none of them make any sense. Don’t expect anything. Just prepare yourself to share ideas, ask questions and learn something new every day from the moment you walk in the door. There’s a lot to learn, and a lot of work to be done!

3. On what to expect from the Fellowship experience

Dana: The most valuable thing you can expect to gain from the Fellowship is a new way to look at problems and a new way to collaborate to solve those problems. It is a mind-opening experience that you can’t get from sitting in a lecture hall or discussion section.

Jessamine:  Expect to be challenged, to make new friends and to learn more about design (and about yourself) than you really thought possible. I was shaky in sharing my design ideas when I first began my Fellowship, but the past year really helped me find my voice as a designer. Expect great things.

Jessamine Bartley-Matthews pointing to TV screen during presentation

4. On working in a collaborative culture

Dana: Collaboration is the most important part of the Fellowship experience with DEI and DIG. Working with the full time staff and other high-achieving Student Fellows isn’t only inspiring, it’s also fun; it’s what makes you look forward to coming into work everyday.

Jessamine: There’s something really nice about working at DIG, and the collaborative workspace is a huge part of that. For me, one of the best parts of the experience is being able to look up from my sketchbook and find myself surrounded by my insanely talented peers, all of whom are willing to drop everything and help you work through problems at a moment’s notice. When you get stuck because you’ve been looking at something for too long, having someone take a look with fresh eyes can help you uncover things you hadn’t thought of previously. These collaborations and conversations are the types of impromptu things that lead to really great design.

5. On suggestions for maximizing the Fellowship experience

Dana: This Fellowship isn’t just a resume booster- it’s a life experience that is only valuable if you go in with an open-mind. I found at times that I gained more skills from the Fellowship than I did in my classes. The people working at DEI and DIG want to see you succeed- ask lots of questions while these amazing people surround you!

Jessamine: Ask questions! Even if you think they’re dumb. Even if you think everyone else in the room already knows the answer. Even if it makes you feel silly and insignificant. You might be the only one with your particular question, and often those simple questions can reveal big issues with a design. So, ask!

6. On the role of mentorship on professional work

Dana: When I started, I was paired up with the DIG User Experience designer, Mike Wojan, and he became my mentor at DIG, specifically, and in my professional life, in general. We started by setting up a list of desired goals for my Fellowship and he made sure that I got a chance to check all of these goals and skills off my list. Keeping these goals in mind was a wonderful way to make sure I was getting the full experience out of the Fellowship. Additionally, having him as a mentor proved to be a valuable resource and window into the “real” world of what it takes to excel in a professional and competitive field.

Jessamine: The mentorship has been huge for me. On ECoach, I have been fortunate to work alongside Ben Hayward (DIG Lead Developer) and Holly Derry (DIG Lead Behavioral Scientist), and what I’ve loved about our working relationship is that they challenge me to think through my design choices, poking holes until we reach something that meets students’ needs. They’ve helped me figure out how to talk about my work.The mentoring that students get at DIG is what really sets this Fellowship apart from other on-campus jobs.

7. On what to prioritize to optimize internship/Fellowship experience

Dana: Prioritize learning the hard stuff. If someone hands you a hard project request – even if you aren’t sure you can do it – take it. These are the experiences that will make you a better designer, coder, or whatever you want to be.

Jessamine: I wish I had done a better job of thoughtfully prioritizing my class and work schedules. Don’t pack all your work in the beginning of the week, because so many days will elapse between work days that it will be difficult to resume your train of thought and pick up where you left off.

Internship and fellowship programs can lead to unexpected experiences that build the path towards successful educational and career endeavors. With practical advice and key tips from Dana and Jessamine you can prepare for your own optimized experience within the internship and/or Fellowship sphere.

For more insight into DEI internships and the DIG Student Fellows Program, visit the Student Opportunities page.


To stay informed on upcoming initiatives, news and events, subscribe for DEI email updates.

Launching the DIG Student Fellows Program

Mike Daniel, Director, Policy and Operations for Digital Education & Innovation

As the Summer of 2015 approached, the newly formed Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) —  one of three labs housed in U-M’s Office of Digital Education & Innovation identified a need for additional resources that could support several of the team’s key functions, including software development, user experience design and user community mobilization and refinement.  These core functions are needed to help DIG achieve its charge of fostering educational software innovations from the University’s research community, working with their user communities to grow them to maturity, and establishing pathways to scale through collaboration across U-M’s digital ecosystem.

DIG Fellows sharing information with eachotherIn order to find people with these skills, the DIG team decided to put out a call for U-M students who would work directly in the Greenhouse over the summer.  Ultimately bringing two U-M students and one recent U-M graduate on board for the summer, the DIG team quickly realized the power of partnering U-M students with its existing team of full-time developers who help translate digital engagement tools from innovation to infrastructure.  The success of the summer program led DIG to create a Student Fellows Program to facilitate continued partnering with U-M students on its various initiatives over the course of the academic year.

The Program includes part-time student jobs centered around user experience design, software development, and innovation advocacy.  Fellows are typically appointed for an entire academic term, with the option to continue on for multiple terms.  Each fellow is assigned a formal mentor within DIG who helps oversee the fellow’s experience in the Greenhouse and facilitates connections for that fellow to the larger student community within DIG.

For the Fall 2015 Academic Term, there are currently ten U-M Student Fellows in the Program.  They are:

  • Jessamine Bartley-Matthews – 1st Year Masters Student in the School of Information focusing on user experience design
  • Lena Carew – 1st Year Masters Student in the School of Education focusing on communities of practice
  • Indu Ghandikota – 3rd Year Undergraduate in the College of Engineering focusing on software development
  • Samarth Gulati – 2nd Year Masters Student in the School of Information focusing on user experience design and software development
  • Niyati Gupta – 2nd Year Masters Student in the School of Information focusing on user experience design
  • Christanna Hemmingway – 2nd Year Masters Student in the School of Information focusing on user experience design
  • Akshay Potnis – 1st Year Masters Student in the School of Information focusing on software development and user experience design
  • Heidi Wong – 2nd Year Masters Student in the School of Information focusing on user experience design
  • Jeff Zhang – 4th Year Undergraduate in the School of Information focusing on user experience design
  • Weikai Zhang – 2nd Year Masters Student in the School of Information focusing on software development

As tools supported by the Greenhouse aim to have a direct impact on student success and will often include direct application by students, the DIG Leadership team views the Student Fellows Program as an integral component to the ultimate success of DIG in achieving its mission.  Students who are interested in becoming a fellow in the Greenhouse should contact the DIG team (

Reflections of a UX Design Fellow: How I Grew as a Professional at DEI

Jasmine Hentschel, DIG UX Design Fellow Alumni

UX researchWorking with the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) provided a very fitting way to wrap up my eight years in Ann Arbor. Having completed both my undergraduate and Master’s degrees as well as some full-time work for the university, I felt well-positioned to leverage my in-depth knowledge of the campus community as a User Experience (UX) Design Fellow.

With DIG, I gained experience working on several large-scale education technologies for use in a variety of settings on campus. My methods ranged from paper prototyping, wireframing, and icon design to interviews, focus groups, usability testing, and beyond. Being the first UX person at DIG, I was given freedom to tackle problems in a myriad of ways. I completed some projects using techniques I have significant experience with, but was also at liberty to challenge myself and use less familiar techniques when they were appropriate. At first it was difficult being the only UX professional in the organization, but I quickly grew into an outspoken advocate for and committed teacher of my methods. By introducing different ways to solve problems and innovate, I got people thinking and talking about new approaches for designing great products and also reflected deeply on their importance in my own work.

Results of a Wireframing session.

Results from a Wireframing session.

DIG provided me with several avenues for growth as a professional and an academic. I was constantly challenged to justify my approaches to people unfamiliar with best practices in UX, which helped me develop confidence and versatility as both a designer and researcher. Finding ways to communicate my and my colleagues’ ideas visually was very thrilling; it’s always motivating to watch people see thoughts and ideas come to life through design. Perhaps the best part of my summer at DIG was getting to interact with the greater U-M community. I’m always enthusiastic about getting out into the field and communicating directly with current or potential users, so having such a vast array of connections across campus through other members of DEI was immensely helpful for user research.

Jasmine presenting to DEI at the end of her fellowship.

Jasmine presenting to DEI at the end of her fellowship.

I’m grateful to have spent the summer surrounded by so many professionals knowledgeable about EdTech and the rapidly evolving higher education sphere. Many people in the office acted as mentors and often shared their invaluable experiences and expertise. I’m eager to continue following the work of DEI as I move on to other professional endeavors, and can’t wait to see the wonderful ways they continue to engage the campus community in the coming years and months.


The Digital Innovation Greenhouse within DEI is seeking a User Experience Designer. For additional information and/or to apply, please visit this job description.


Nothing Found

Sorry, no posts matched your criteria