Student Spotlight

Student Spotlight: Jessica Austriaco
Ugonna Akuba





Name: Jessica Austriaco

Year: Sophomore

College/Major: Bioengineering & ILEE

TEC Programs: SocialFuse, BOLD






What is your connection with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign?

I’m a sophomore pursuing a dual degree in Bioengineering and Innovation, Leadership and Engineering Entrepreneurship (ILEE).


Why did you decide to pursue this degree?

TE 333: Creativity, Innovation and Vision was recommended to me as a really good class by a couple of upper classmen that I know which lead to me be interested. Also, Bold is a group for women in entrepreneurship and leadership that just started this year that I am the president. I thought I would have so much fun taking these classes and I also wanted something to add to my engineering experience.


How would you describe your U of I experience in 3 words?

Diverse, Opportunity, and Challenge. Diverse because that was the biggest reason I chose U of I. It’s so diverse here. There are also a lot of opportunities here. If you want to be involved in something, you can just go and do it. There’s always new things popping up everywhere and new things to start if you want to start something because we definitely have the resources. It’s also a challenge because the work is really challenging and all the life challenges are helping me grow.


What’s one thing that you love about this Campus?

I love the opportunities. I’m always online trying to find new things to be involved with. You can walk on the quad and there’s always something different every day.

What was your favorite TE Course you’ve taken? Why?

Some of my friends were telling me about some of the brain teasers they used in TE 333 and I was like I would love to take a class where they told you brain teasers. I’m having a lot of fun in the class right now. It’s so different. It’s listed as an engineering class, but we learn how to be more creative, which is something that is never touched on in most engineering classes.


What TE Course did you find the most beneficial? Why?

TE 360: Lectures in Engineering Entrepreneurship is very beneficial in terms of networking. You get to meet a lot entrepreneurs that come into class or people that are really involved in entrepreneurship around the school.

How would you summarize your experiences?

I think TEC programs in general are really well advertised, so you get different types of people and also a large amount that come. I love meeting people from different majors, backgrounds, and interests but everyone’s interested in starting something or pursuing a project that they’re passionate about. So you get a mix of creative people and that what makes it really cool.


Is there anything that surprised you?

I was surprised to learn that entrepreneurship was such a buzzing community here. I knew that there were a lot of start-ups that came out of U of I, but I didn’t realize that it was this big community and TEC sort of brings everyone together. It was really cool to explore and find out about.


How has participating changed your views on entrepreneurship?
Working hard to promote BOLD and also working with people in BOLD has made me more passionate about getting more women involved in entrepreneurship, and also just excited about the whole field in general. I didn’t grow up thinking “I’m going to start a company one day,” but now I’m like maybe I will because there are a lot of resources here and in TE:360 we’ve been learning about the process of start-ups.


What do you hope to accomplish in terms of entrepreneurship?

I always have new ideas, but even if I don’t end up starting a company, I’ll definitely be interested in different projects or innovating within where I work. I started a leadership council in the C.A.R.E. Tutoring Space in Grainger Library because I was like this is a cool program but nobody’s doing anything to make it better, so I started a little group with my boss. Entrepreneurially, maybe I won’t start a company, but I’ll definitely keep innovating. I’ll continue to do those little kinds of things like that.


Were you always interested in entrepreneurship?

I’m always interested in new things. Innovation is a really broad word and it’s a buzz word around the university. When you really think about it, people that innovate are people who want to start new things or want to make thing better and that’s something I’ve always been interested in.


Do you think you’ve changed your way of thinking?

I always wanted to be involved in new tings and improve things, but I never had the resources or the word to describe what that was. Now that I’m involved with TEC, it’s easier for me to look at things and think “how can I make this better?” or “where do I want to start?” It has really change my perspective in terms of what I’m involved in and what I want to do on campus.

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Student Spotlight: Jake Fava
Ugonna Akuba


Name: Jake Fava

Year: Sophomore

College/Major: Electrical Engineering & Innovation, Leadership, & Engineering Entrepreneurship

TEC Programs: Social Fuse, Cozad,




What is your connection with the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana?

I’m a sophomore double majoring in electrical engineering and ILEE


What is your favorite thing to do on campus?

It would probably have to do with the performing arts. I've performed shows in the past with Illini Student Musicals, and am currently the Assistant Vocal Director for this semester's production, I sing in the Varsity Men's Glee Club, I'm a member of the DeBono musical improv team, and I'm taking private voice lessons with the School of Music.


How would you describe your U of I experience in 3 words?

Eye-opening, thrilling, and inspiring. It was eye-opening because it’s fantastic to learn about electrical engineering and all these crazy things that I would’ve never been exposed to. Thrilling because I feel like everywhere I go, there are new opportunities and people to meet that’ll possibly help you with your idea. Inspiring because in lieu of all of the opportunities that I’ve been fortunate enough to have, I seen a million stories, both successful and non-successful. Just yesterday for TE 461: Technology Entrepreneurship, we reviewed case studies and it was just the coolest thing I’ve read in my entire life. Just by hearing people’s stories you realize that there’s not one path for any person or company. It’s inspiring to be surrounded by and be made aware of these stories.


Were you always interested in entrepreneurship?

I was always interested in being an innovator and I knew that since high school. I took what is now TE 250: From Idea to Enterprise with Harlee Sorkin my very first semester here and I realized that it’s exactly what I wanted to do. So I had a general idea, but I didn’t know it was exactly entrepreneurship until I took that class.


How did you get involved with TEC?

The Illinois Engineering First Year Experience pamphlet. They have a bunch of classes advertising you to try and TE 298: Intro to Innovation, Leadership and Engineering Entrepreneurship was in that pamphlet. I thought it sounded pretty cool, so I decided to take it. In every TE class, Brooke [Newell, TEC’s Academic Programs Coordinator and Chief Academic Advisor] or Ashley [Hipsher, TEC’s Marketing Advisor] come in to do a presentation, so then I learned that there’s this whole curriculum, certificates and events that were all about entrepreneurship and I was one of the people that got hooked from that.


What attracted you to Social Fuse?

Last semester in TE 333: Creativity, Innovation and Vision, the semester project that I did was about seeking new partners for a start-up. So I explored that a lot which lead me to Social Fuse. I like going to Social Fuse a lot because I like hearing all these really cool ideas and there’s also the aspect of getting to talk to people, even though you both might not have an idea at the time. You just get to meet a bunch of people who are interested in entrepreneurship.


What made you decided to compete in Cozad New Venture Competition?

I participated in Start-up Bootcamp last fall. Then I started going to a few events and things. I just started talking about the idea more. I met someone else that was part of a different team at Start-up Bootcamp that was taking a sustainability class and she connected me with her professor who is in the plant sciences department. He tells me about this problem which is basically a perfect fit for my project and it all fell together.


What was your favorite TEC Course you’ve taken?

TE 333: Creativity, Innovation and Vison because it was the coolest thing to explore. It’s really a soft science, but even for a soft science it’s underrepresented. We didn’t learn about this stuff in high school and you’re going to need it in like every job. It’s something you can use every single day and I would not have the knowledge that I have about creativity and things like that, which is an integral in being an entrepreneur.


Do you think you’ve changed your way of thinking?

There was just so many things that I did not understand or think about before. I never thought about all the legal issues that you can run into. I’m more aware of that now because we have classes like Harlee’s finance class.


What is a highlight of your journey?

I would go back to the beginning of college when I took Harlee’s class. It was probably the first or second class and he was talking about something and I just remember looking around and asking myself does everyone else think this is the coolest thing in the world because I do. That was when I realize that this is what I have to do.



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