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How to infiltrate an existing organization on campus to become a leader of collaboration and interdisciplinary change

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A variety of student organizations across the university campus is a crucial asset allowing students to widen their perspectives by participating in different activities outside of coursework. These organizations provide students with hands on experiences and out of classroom skills which they would not gain from text books. Many employers appreciate and seek employees who have past organizational involvement, because it shows the student was interactive socially and willing to be a team player.

Connecting students and organizations creates opportunities otherwise unavailable and promotes positive change.  Innovative actions to improve student’s experiences will require support from many different parties. By forming these connections an ecosystem will be created that fosters these changes.

Through interviewing a University Innovation Fellow, Alex Francis, we made this guide for creating a more connected campus by infiltrating other organizations. To start you need to define your (organization’s) mission. From there you’ll need to learn about the various groups and students you want to connect with before finding ways to spark collaboration. Once you know the students’ interests and you have the necessary resources, you can lead interdisciplinary activities.


  • Get a sense of the problems that students want solved. Communication is Key!
  • Establish your mission
  • Gain access to different campus groups (club meetings, all campus events)
  • Use existing resources on campus to connect with others
  • Make your mission known through marketing & publicity
    • Create a website/social media profiles
    • Frequently send scheduled email updates and event alerts
    • Print and post flyers in high traffic, public areas on campus
  • Find funding if necessary
  • Find a meeting space
  • Delegate roles to officers, ensuring everyone works to their strengths and no one is overwhelmed. Create an understanding of everyone’s roles.
  • Provide incentives to get students involved initially. Incentives can include food, materials for projects and activities, prizes for competitions, college credits/certifications, etc.


  • Establish institutional and faculty relationships. This will aid the organization in planning events, forming relationships with students and other contacts, and/or procuring funding for events and other organizational needs.
  • Be involved in campus events. Publicity and building awareness is important in gaining support.  Use marketing techniques to let people know about your organization.
  • Reserve guest speakers to attract membership and involvement.


  • Tailor events around problems the students want solved. Focus on the incoming freshman classes. Themed workshops and events are more engaging than a general approach.
  • Help coordinate competitions (Hackathons, Pitch Competitions, Start-up Challenges, etc.)
  • Host design thinking workshops which expose students to innovative & entrepreneurial ideals, provide a setting for students to network across disciplines, and inspire students to brainstorm solutions for challenges faced in their institution or organization with an entrepreneurial mind set.
  • Face-to-face interaction and collaboration is always best. Surveys and independent activities can be useful to learn what students are passionate about, but cannot form the cross discipline connections which will be much more beneficial in the future.

Success Story:

UIFellow, Alex Francis, had the opportunity to be the president of CEO (Collegiate entrepreneur organization) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He was one of about 24 members involved in CEO. CEO is an organization which raises student awareness to the tools available at an institution for start-up ventures. The organization brings inspirational and expert guest speakers to meetings to educate members on topics relating to innovation and entrepreneurship.

He considers his greatest success as the president of CEO to be attending the national conference in Orlando, FL with twelve of his organization’s members. One of these twelve members then went on to become a UIFellow because of his/her experiences as a member of CEO.

He, along with three other members, created a Design Thinking Workshop for 300 student organization officers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. They engaged these students with hands on experiences using the design thinking methodology (Empathise > Define > Ideate > Prototype > Test). Here you will see the interactions in the video below. {}}

Alex used design thinking principles to connect his campus during his undergraduate studies at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He recently founded Isopoint Technologies (see, a company hoping to improve the way genes are studied. Some takeaways from our interview are below.

Lessons & Tips  from Alex, an experienced UIFellow:

  • Understand the objective of the organization, and make sure your team does too.
  • Find ways to get students interested (i.e. invite a popular speaker to address your organization or play frisbee in your campus green space and promote your organization to students passing by, the possibilities are endless!).
  • Create surveys, interview, and observe students in order to understand what appeals to students before hosting events.
  • Ensure transparency with prospective students. The more a student knows about an organization’s mission and purpose, the more likely they will show interest.
  • Create goals for officers and the organization itself. These goals will provide a starting point for planning.
  • Work to expose freshman students as early as possible. These students will have the most opportunity to create change, because they have just begun their college career.
  • Being effective is difficult with a large workload. Time management is crucial to maintain student interest and participation.

Additional Resources

Related page: Establishing an Innovation Community

Written by: Hussain Alsulaiman