Vanessa Ganaden and Lorenzo Santos, seniors at Cal State Fullerton, spoke with university administration and staff from around the globe at the 103rd Annual Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) Conference held in San Francisco last month. The annual meeting served as a forum to discuss more effective approaches to rebuilding public trust in higher education.
During the three-day conference, Vanessa and Lorenzo had the opportunity to address a reception of over 2,000 higher education leaders about their work on campus as University Innovation Fellows (UIF), a nation-wide program that empowers students to become leaders of change at school. This is the second time in which Cal State Fullerton students have been accepted into the program, consisting of 776 current fellows at 164 global institutes.
The duo also had the opportunity to attend a sold-out workshop at Stanford University’s d.school, where the UIF program is based. While there, the two went on a tour of the campus and talked with others during a workshop about design thinking; a skill they picked up through training with UIF.
AAC&U members attended a multitude of panels, workshops, and sessions ranging from campus activism for LGBTQ Rights to the causes and costs of faculty turnover. Of the 12 students who spoke on the panel Wednesday evening, Vanessa and Lorenzo were the only ones from California. California State University, Fullerton’s own President Garcia (pictured below) was also present at the conference.
“We definitely felt more heard. We were the only students,,” said Vanessa, 25, who is perusing a business administration degree with concentrations in marketing and entrepreneurship. “[I loved] being able to discuss education with actual change-makers in their respective colleges and universities and bring my perspective [to the conversation].”
“[It was an] absolutely phenomenal experience. I’m proud of the fact that I was able to represent not only CSUF, but the rest of the California State schools. It feels great to know that as a student, you are able to start the dialogue for change. You don’t have to just stay in the sidelines… You are the change!” said Lorenzo, 22, a communications and advertising major.
“It was really inspiring to see these faculty members just being inspired by us as well. The whole conference people were stopping us and saying ‘That was an amazing opening night!” said Vanessa.
When asked what it was like getting to share their work with top-quality administration and staff members, Vanessa expressed sincere gratitude in being invited to the conference, saying, “[Lorenzo and I] had been working so hard to be at the table, and now we are at the table, and we’re shifting the conversations. We made a space.”
Making a space also happens to be one of Vanessa’s goals for the student club she founded: Student Innovation Collective (SINC). To make a space is physical embodiment of their mission: “A space where students from all different types of departments can get together and make stuff,” said Lorenzo, who also serves as Vice President for SINC.
Vanessa, current President of SINC and Vice President of the Sigma Upsilon Mu (SUM) shows her passion for entrepreneurship when discussing her mindset. Like many entrepreneurs, she isn’t afraid to fail.
“What makes me successful is that I say ‘Yes’ to a lot of things, and I figure it out later; the idea is to gain experiences. It’s so invaluable.”
Vanessa stressed the benefits of innovation for all students, but especially freshman, having the proper resources, such as workshops, on campus, saying, “To open up and have [the right] framework for brain work and creativity [can] really set them up for the next four years.”
When asked about the biggest takeaway from the conference, Vanessa replied, “You have to speak up. [Students] don’t realize how much power they have as a collective. [Administration] is here to help, they just don’t know what we want. We just need to speak up.”
For more information on the UIF program, visit http://universityinnovationfellows.org/.
For more information on the AAC&U, please visit https://www.aacu.org.
Written by: Arianna Ford
Edited by: Travis Lindsay
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