"I was totally enchanted by the Stanford campus, the faculty, and the interactive and inspiring lectures."
Weronika Adrian is a changed person. Inspired and invigorated after a two month travel study program at Stanford, she has a new perspective on work, her future, and the power of innovation. Taking classes at Stanford tapped into creativity that was long dormant inside of her and taught her to seek new approaches to challenges. "I really started seeing problems as opportunities," she says. "I was encouraged to think for myself, to create without fear and not to follow a given path."
Adrian is a research assistant and PhD candidate in computer science at AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow, Poland. She is a member of the GEIST Research Group, a founder member of the Polish Artificial Intelligence Society and a member of IEEE. Adrian traveled to Stanford as part of the Top 500 Innovators program, an initiative instituted by the Poland Ministry of Science and Higher Education. Their goal is to encourage innovation in Poland and bridge the gap between academia and business. The first group of Top 500 Innovators, 40 aspiring young talent from Polish academia, arrived on the Stanford campus in October, 2011 to complete a certificate in Science Management Commercialization. Classes were taught by Stanford faculty and facilitated through the Stanford Center for Professional Development.
Adrian was excited to be accepted into the program and thrilled to arrive on the Stanford campus. But she had no idea how profoundly the program would impact her. "The program was a big mystery, because it was organized for the first time," she says. "I expected more technical knowledge about potentially boring procedures and rules for commercialization. But instead, we were presented with a completely new way of thinking!" Classes dealt with topics including creativity, teamwork, understanding different ways of thinking, and tools for innovation including brainstorming and rapid prototyping. Participants worked in teams and were encouraged to be bold and develop wild ideas. "It was all liberating and inspiring, and it helped me smile and enjoy my time," she says. The program also reignited her creative and artistic skills, which were all but abandoned years prior despite having studied piano, percussion, and ballet in the past. She learned a lot about entrepreneurship, working in interdisciplinary teams, and how academia can work closely with business to develop products and companies, and spawn economic development.
One of her most memorable lessons was with Professor Bill Burnett, in which he talked about creativity, design thinking, and telling stories that "stick". Adrian was struck with how he used music during the interactive lecture, which she described as unlocking unused rooms in her head. She also gained a lot from Professor Donna Novitsky's course on entrepreneurship and how to transform an idea into a company. And everyone had fun doing rapid prototyping in Professors Chris Gerdes and Bill Cockayne's classes. She found the Stanford faculty engaged, honest and very open. The takeaways were numerous, including that attitude counts. "Focus on results," she learned, "not busy work. Believe in your intuition, engage all the skills and experiences you have, listen carefully to people, use the synergy of teamwork, be open and honest, and be positive."
Now back in Krakow, Adrian is still closely connected to her travel study peers. They took home plenty of useful materials to help keep the learning fresh including slides, articles, and books. They started a blog, are connected through LinkedIn, and established an association to apply the knowledge they gained. Adrian has already taught the brainstorming guidelines she learned to her colleagues, and they now implement brainstorming into their teamwork. She is working on a syllabus for a new course on creativity that will be the first of its kind at her university.
For her, the program was a life-changing experience. "It keeps inspiring me to work, to think and act creatively, and I keep coming back to this experience for strength and motivation," she says. The program is so multidimensional that it can reach various types of people, from scientists, technology transfer officers, and entrepreneurs. "I can see no reason why anybody would NOT want to go and be a part in the program!"