innovation - The University of Tulsa


Two students, four faculty awarded NOVA Fellowship FuTUre Fund innovation prizes

The NOVA Fellowship at The University of Tulsa has awarded FuTUre Fund innovation prizes to two students and four faculty. This funding will support their projects aimed at boosting the culture of innovation at TU.

Since 2013, TU has hosted the NOVA Fellowship program, which puts students and faculty in charge of a project of their own creation. These projects have covered diverse topics, such as politics, community outreach programs, investments and human biology.

The current director of the NOVA Fellowship, Professor of Marketing Charles Wood, says that NOVA’s FuTUre Fund prizes are important for supporting TU’s innovation ecology: “Our university has so many amazing students and faculty. The NOVA innovation prizes are a simple way to encourage those who want to create and implement innovative projects. Recognizing these students and faculty as NOVA Fellows celebrates interdisciplinary innovation, something TU is known for and which is a key part of our new strategic plan.”

Inaugural FuTUre Fund recipients

young man with black hair and a blue open-collar shirtGhulam Haider (MSE ’18) is a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering. His areas of research are fluid mechanics, erosion modeling and erosion control. Haider is passionate about learning, exploring and teaching. “Working as a teaching assistant has shown me that teaching is one of the best ways to give back to the community, as you get to directly impact lives,” Haider said. Outside of his studies, Haider loves trying new cuisine and cooking. He also describes himself as a “fitness freak and a crazy dog lover!”

“I am honored to be a recipient of a NOVA FuTUre Fund award,” remarked Haider. “My NOVA Fellowship has given me a community of innovators who support and encourage one another, a platform to dream big and a FuTUre Fund to make these dreams a reality. With my passion for learning and improving, I’m determined to make a meaningful and measurable difference in our university’s learning environment in my humble capacity.”

young man smiling while wearing glasses and a white polo shirtSuraj Nayan Vodnala is majoring in business management. He is also a pre-med student minoring in society, law and policy, and he conducts research under the supervision of professors Tim Hart and Robert Sheaff. “College students are constantly working on amazing projects that often never leave campus,” Vodnala noted. “I love the NOVA Foundation’s dedication to launching and introducing these projects to the community.” Currently, Vodnala is contributing business insights to a team of senior engineering students creating a newly designed small, unmanned aircraft system (sUAS). He is also part of the Love’s Cup Business Plan competition, presenting a novel chemotherapeutic scanning process developed by Sheaff.

“The NOVA innovation prize offers a unique opportunity to fund projects and promote their growth past campus,” Vodnala said. “The sUAS design has numerous applications within midstream oil. I look forward to assisting several senior engineering students to bring this design to market.”

man with facial hair wearing striped grey and black sweaterAssociate Professor of Political Science Matt Hindman plans to build a new block course with his NOVA funding. “This new course will be centered on those areas of our political system that appear ripe for reform,” said Hindman. “The NOVA FuTUre Fund prize will help keep me up to date on the explosion of recent scholarship on things like gerrymandering, the Electoral College and the rigidity of our two-party system. I’m already looking forward to this fall course and to the personal research agenda that I hope will result as well!”

man wearing glasses, a red tie and a checked blazerThe course Chapman Clinical Professor of Athletic Training Greg Gardner proposed “really began from an idea that was a final exam question in a previous course. The question was, simply, ‘explain the therapeutic rationale of using an ankle foot orthosis as opposed to a cast for a severe ankle sprain.’ As I dug into the ‘perfect response,’ it became apparent that most clinical decisions in athletic training and orthopedics can be justified by applying the basic principles of rigid body mechanics to human tissue as it recovers from injury.”

man smiling and wearing an open-collar blue-and-green tartan shirtChapman Professor of Athletic Training Eric Wickel is the chair of TU’s Department of Kinesiology and Rehabilitative Sciences. “My future course will take a deep dive into ubiquitous terms like physical activity and sedentary behavior to challenge what we know (or think we know) about our daily pursuits and their influence on health,” Wickel explained. “Unique opportunities will be provided to work with research-grade wearable devices and also to establish and disseminate science-based messaging about physical activity and/or sedentary behavior.”

man wearing a polka dot tie, white shirt and black blazer“Across the world, the demand for energy continues to grow,” noted Genave King Rogers Assistant Professor of Energy Law and Commerce Buford Pollett. “Emerging economies globally and in the United States continue to drive this demand as the global population continues to increase. However, the energy mix is undergoing a transition. Many institutions and industries are considering options concerning the upcoming changes in the energy mix. Successful energy projects generally require engagement with a variety of stakeholders.” Drawing on his NOVA funding, Pollett plans to develop a course focused on sustainability and engagement with stakeholders (including capital markets, workforce, technological advancement and external communities) on enhancing the relationship between the energy industry and society.”

Do you have an idea for an innovative project within your field of study? Learn more about the NOVA FuTUre Fund and how it could help you further TU’s culture of innovation!

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This blog is a project of the NOVA Fellowship at TU.  


The NOVA Fellowship at The University of Tulsa (TU) has a mission to build and support the culture of innovation on campus and in our communities. We do this by providing small grants to help innovative student projects, faculty involved in innovative programs, and curating content related to current trends and recent developments in technology and innovation. This content includes topics relevant to the entire campus, including health sciences, economics, arts management, biology, computer science, finance, artificial intelligence (AI), communication, engineering, and global issues. Because NOVA students are studying in a variety of TU majors, our interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving is one of our great strengths.

NOVA also helps provide training to students and faculty in creativity, problem-solving, innovation, and entrepreneurship. We offer training on the TU campus in meetings and workshops, and through an exciting partnership with Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Every year since 2015, NOVA has sent several TU students and faculty to Stanford for 4-5 days of training with experts and interaction with fellow scholars from around the world. The student program is University Innovation Fellows ( and the program for faculty is the Teaching and Learning Studio Faculty Workshop (

In these ways, NOVA exposes TU faculty, staff, and students to many processes and tools used in modern companies related to creativity, problem-solving, innovation, and entrepreneurship. One of these is “design thinking.” It is one of the most well-known problem-solving approaches used around the world today, used to develop concepts for new products, education, buildings, machines, toys, healthcare services, social enterprises, and more. According to the people who developed this tool, Dave Kelley and Tim Brown of the design firm, IDEO:

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success…. Thinking like a designer can transform the way organizations develop products, services, processes, and strategy. This approach, which IDEO calls design thinking, brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It also allows people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges.” (

As the innovation field develops, new perspectives are emerging. One promising approach we are beginning to bring into NOVA meetings and workshops is called “systems thinking,” which builds upon the emergent field of complexity research. Systems thinking recognizes the inherent interactivity of the dynamic processes in our world and focuses on problem-solving with that complexity in mind. This approach isn’t completely new, but recent work has made systems thinking more accessible to people interested in solving problems of most any type. For example, Derek Cabrera, Ph.D. (Cornell University) has proposed a useful taxonomy designed to improve systems thinking called DSRP (Distinctions, Systems, Relationships, and Perspectives). He defines it as: “The recursive distinguishing of things and their interrelationships and part-whole organization from various perspectives” ( Elsewhere, DSRP has been described as a particular way to think about problems, and that the use of these four patterns notably improves people’s problem-solving abilities – demonstrated in sessions with Kindergartners all the way to CEOs. The complex, adaptive mental models that are formed during systems thinking attempt to identify the most approachable and simplest explanations for phenomena. In his book with Laura Cabrera, Systems Thinking Made Simple, examples of the simplicity that drives complexity include: the interaction of CMYK colors in our world, the amazing biodiversity derived from combinations of DNA’s core nucleotides ATCG, the fundamentals of martial arts which practitioners use together to improvise during sparring matches, the almost infinite variety of models that can be built with modular Lego blocks, and the billions of possible moves in a chess match with just 6 unique pieces.

We invite you to join us and collaborate as we learn more about effective ways to solve problems that you and others care about in the community, in corporations, and on campus! Please visit or email Dr. Charles M. Wood, Professor of Marketing at TU: