Innovation series to create connections


What IF Innovators Forum, a series for students, will begin Sept. 11. The conversation-based sessions will give students a chance to hear from speakers and discover how they can participate in their industry.

Sage Smith

Students are full of ideas, and a new innovation series will create conversations and connections to get them engaged.

The weekly conversation-based series, What IF – Innovators Forum, will feature a speaker to talk with students about their experiences and projects.

Karen Kerns, entrepreneur in residence at Iowa State, created What IF with the help of colleagues. Kerns said each session will be in three parts: sharing innovation journeys, what innovation looks like in certain industries and how young people can participate.

“Education is not the outcome of your college experience,” Kerns said. “It is meaningful contributions, significance, impact.”

A student named Mani helped spark the series idea for Kerns by asking how to behave and practice, to make an influence. Students can find resources to learn but the hands-on work is how they can get involved with their industries and interests now.

Ana Luz, associate teaching professor of industrial design, is Kerns’ collaborator for development of the program. Luz, along with Abram Anders, associate professor of English, will be interviewing the guest speakers for the series.

“Embrace complexity,” Luz said. “If after all of this they feel like ‘Oh, so many things, I’m so lost.’ That’s when we say yay. You need to be lost in order to be found. If they get lost a little bit in all the things we are throwing, then they will try to find their path.”

Working with Kerns and Luz for the branding of the series is Annie Arbuckle, library administrative specialist.

“I think for students, it opens up possibilities, new ways of thinking,” Arbuckle said of the innovation series. “It gives them different things to think about in what their pursuits may be and doesn’t limit them, doesn’t put them in a box.”

Kerns said What IF is a “grand invitation for our students to co-create opportunity.” They want to break down intellectual, physical, psychological and emotional barriers to learning and work alongside the students.

“That means really elevating the side by side and companioning mentality,” Kerns said. “That really says that we are asking our students to inform how we create our industry and how we create academia.”

All but two of the sessions will be virtual. Once a month, there will be an in-person circuit training session at the Student Innovation Center.

“The reason for virtual is not because we can’t do it in person, though I recognize that’s a limitation,” Kerns said. “It’s because if our students are to have access to these really amazing people, then we have to give them that online access, they have to have those portals.”

The What IF sessions begin Sept. 11 and are scheduled every Friday until April 2. Students wanting to take part in the innovation sessions and wanting to hear from fellow innovators can register on the Student Innovation Center website.

Students can register on the Student Innovation Center website and while it is encouraged for students to attend them live, all the online sessions will be recorded.

An opportunity Kerns and those she is collaborating with want students to know about is the one-day dash innovation competition in October where cash prizes will be available. Those interested in the competition can register their team online.