Finding my place at Iowa State

Finding my place at Iowa State

One student’s journey to discover how the Innovation Fellows program helped shape her freshman year.

By Mallory Tope, Communications Assistant | Published  August 25 2021

For many freshmen, starting their higher education journey during a pandemic made adjusting to college life difficult. Sarah Ng, a sophomore in industrial engineering, said she felt lost until she found her place on campus in the Innovation Fellows Program. 

Ng started her freshman year like any other student but Ng said she struggled to connect with things and people due to everything being online due to COVID-19. 

However, Ng did not let COVID-19 stop her from exploring campus to find the perfect place for her to succeed.

Journey through Innovation

In October 2020, Ng learned about the Startup Pitch Competition at the student innovation center and decided to join because it reminded her of the pitch and speech competition she did in high school.

“I decided to go ahead and do the competition and that is what got me involved with the competitions side of the Center which eventually led me to do more of the clubs and other Fellows opportunities,” Ng said.

Since joining the Innovation Fellows Program Ng has been involved in various sprints, dashes, competitions and events.

  • Startup Pitch Event: a 90-second pitch competition where participants pitch their innovative and unique concepts. Ng received an honorable mention award and her concept was an app idea to help students with procrastination.
    Ng is currently a sophomore and is excited to continue to be a part of the Innovation Fellows Program. Photo provided by Sarah Ng


  • GO VOTE Design Sprint: a three-week competition where participants created, designed and presented their idea to increase voter engagement on campus. Ng and her team member, Faith Toweh, a graduate student in political science, placed 2nd with their idea of voting ambassadors.


  • Improv Pitch competition: Part of the Ignite Showcase week and hosted by Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship, at this competition students were given 24 hours to respond to prompt and pitch an innovative idea to judges. Ng placed first in her section with her idea of a robotic lawnmower.


  • College of Design’s Dean’s charette: collaborating with College of Design students to re-energize and reimagine spaces on campus. 


  • Energy Vault: a ten-week industry partnership with Energy Vault Company to research and analyze sustainability. As a member of the Coal Ash team, Ng developed an environmental impact assessment which helped corporate executives make decisions about site locations.


  • Radar Ready: Summer sessions focused on professional practices, featuring global innovators who provide strategies for career advancement.


  • Judged for several I-Fit: Innovation Fellows in Training competitions, Ng judged the School of the Future and the Start Something competitions for international high school students around the world. 


  • Last mile project: Student Innovation Fellows’ first student lead innovation program.  The project aims to build support for global community change making by helping citizens identify challenges in developing communities and solving them.


  • Flagship Friday: Virtual conversation sessions with leading industry professionals and leaders in innovation.


“I think the Innovation Fellows Program helped me find my place at Iowa State,” Ng said. 

Ng said she learned different things throughout each of the events and competitions she participated in.

Making connections also played a big role in Ng’s freshman year. Ng said that learning and working with so many different people helped her gain connections and experience that will help her succeed. Ng worked with graduate students, and students from the colleges of design, business, engineering, and agricultural and life sciences.   

“The Innovation Center is about every college and everything being multi-disciplinary and working together to build innovation,” Ng said.

As part of the Fellows cohort, Ng was coached by executive-level corporate innovators and received technical training as well as training to build her capacity to manage projects, communicate, and think through problems. 

“I think that participating in different events will help me in a lot of different ways throughout my college and professional career,” Ng said.  

Ng plans to continue working and being involved with the Student Innovation Center Innovation Fellows Program. She said she wants to continue in the program to gain more experience and connection through her next year at Iowa State. 

Putting yourself out there

“I feel that a lot of freshmen are hesitant to take that first step into the unknown because most people are comfortable with what they know,” Ng said. “Putting yourself out there is the first step and when I did the first competition, it kind of spiraled into becoming an Innovation Fellows.” 

To incoming and current students who are afraid to take that first step and put themselves out there, remember, “Don’t be afraid of failure, you may fail, but even if you do fail, you’re going to get something out of it whether it’s experience or learning or event other ideas, you will get something out of it and it’s worth it,” Ng said. 

So whether you are an incoming freshman or last semester senior, there are several clubs, activities and events at the Center for you to get ahead and put your innovative mind at work. 

Stay tuned for more as the Innovation Programs plans to launch several industry Sprints, Circuits, competition Dashes and more in the Fall.

“Once I started getting more involved with the Student Innovation Center, I connected with people who connected me to even more opportunities that helped shape my freshman year,” Ng said.