UNH announces new sophomore innovation fellowship

Isabelle Curtis

Beginning in fall 2021, sophomores at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) will have the opportunity to participate in a student fellowship through the Peter T. Paul Entrepreneurship Center (ECenter). The Shaw Innovation Explorers Program was made possible by donations from UNH alum David Shaw ’73, CEO of Black Point Group; John Shaw, CEO of Itaconix; and the Shaw family.

The Explorer’s Program strives to provide students with an “understanding of innovation through hands-on, high-impact experiences,” opportunities to meet with “pioneering leaders” across disciplines and participate in workshops about “innovation and start-up development,” according to a UNH press release. Each student will also receive a $5,000 scholarship.

“It’s very unique. There’s nothing like it in the country,” said Ian Grant, executive director of the ECenter.

One thing that makes the Explorer’s Program unique is that it’s designed for sophomore students. Grant explained that UNH already has several programs for first-year students, such as the ECenter’s Idea & Innovation Society and the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences’ (CEPS) Innovation Scholars Program, but the university didn’t want students to be “late in their junior or senior years, and then not be able to apply to their innovation and entrepreneurial activities on campus.”

UNH also hopes the experience and financial aspects of the fellowship may increase retention of students staying on for a second year. UNH’s current student retention rate is 86%, 18% higher than the state average, according to the College Factual Website.

The Explorer’s Program also differs from other programs by focusing on how applicants have proven themselves to be innovative, rather than just their academics. However, being innovative doesn’t just mean creating a start-up company, says Grant, but applies to someone who’s writing a song or specializing in healthcare.

“Innovation is a really broad term, which is why we’re using the word ‘Explorer,’” he explained. “We want someone who’s curious.”

This focus on innovation rather than just academics was inspired by David Shaw’s own experiences at UNH.

“While my academic performance wasn’t stellar, my experience [at UNH] strengthened my conviction and capabilities to seek game-changing opportunities through a life of purpose-driven exploration, discovery and curiosity,” said Shaw in the UNH press release. “I learned how important it is to challenge conventional thinking and to ask ‘what does great look like’ in the quest to create exceptional value in the world. I found that attitude, persistence, adventurousness and courage were often the most important qualities for producing great outcomes and a fulfilling life.”

Since his time at UNH, Shaw has founded IDEXX Laboratories and built dozens of science-based organizations that “generate billions of dollars of annual value to benefit their stakeholders and communities” in both New Hampshire and Maine. He has also given back to the community through his donations to Maine’s Jackson Laboratory, the National Parks Foundation and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum. It is because of his business successes and philanthropy that Shaw was inducted into the UNH Alumni Entrepreneur Hall of Fame in 2018.

The specifics of the Explorer’s Program are still under development, but the year-long program will have multiple phases. The 10 accepted students will begin with a team building weekend. The goal is to encourage cooperation and create relationships that will continue after the program.

Students will then go on monthly off-campus trips to see different forms of innovation from glass blowing studios to commercial lobster boats. The students can pull from these experiences during a 3-day workshop focused on “idea creation and development.” Shaw will also be on-site to help students refine their innovative concepts and introduce them to industry pioneers for a roundtable discussion.

A speaker series featuring these pioneers will be open to all UNH students and Seacoast community members.

Grant hopes that students will walk away from the Shaw Explorer’s Program with not only a set of unique experiences they can apply to their everyday life, but a new way of thinking thanks to their fellow students.

“That coming together [of people with different experiences and majors] is what creates an explosion of ideas,” he said.

Students interested in applying to the Shaw Explorer’s Program can find more information on their website. Application deadline is April 1.

The ECenter also encourages students to check out their other programs. The center will continue their idea creation boot camps every Monday and Tuesday. They will also be holding the i2 Passport Program which will give students a chance to win up to $25,000 to pay off loans and tuition.

Photo courtesy of UNH Today.