The Problem

Higher education is facing a crisis of trust, the public is questioning the value of a degree, there is significant growth in the credentialing market, and outcomes for students and alumni are grim. Higher education needs to mobilize systemic change quickly, and that takes an investment in human capital and leadership development to innovate and lead service design from within the walls of the institution itself.

The Challenge 

Emerging innovators in higher education rarely have enough time, resources, and training to move change initiatives forward. Professional development organizations in higher education are siloed, and there are clear barriers to collaboration between these communities of practice. Teams are struggling to better meet the needs of students and alumni at scale.

The Solution

The Higher Education Innovation Fellowship

This program is designed for ambitious emerging innovators in higher education who want to learn best practices to scale innovation at their institutions and advance themselves as a change agent on campus. 

There's no experience level requirement; however, most applicants have at least five years of work experience in education or elsewhere. Fellows are action-oriented, outcomes-driven, collaborative, innovative, and seek to learn from models and case studies across campuses and industries. The program teaches fellows to break down professional development silos that exist in higher education. Fellows represent various departments and roles in their institutions, staff, faculty, doctoral students, alumni volunteers, and so on.

How it works

Each cohort consists of up to 20 fellows. Fellowship attendance costs $3,500 plus travel and lodging for onsite visits to Portland. We offer an early bird rate of $2,900 for those who register by January 15. Many fellows schedule alumni visits, engage recruiting partners, or arrange other work in tandem with their onsite trip to secure help with costs.


We are currently enrolling for our 2019 HEIF cohort, to begin in the spring of 2019. Applications are due February 15.

Virtual Training 1: The Future of Higher Education Innovation
(Tuesday, March 5, 2019, 90 minutes)
Chelsea Haring, Switchboard | Brittany Paulk, Arizona State University

Virtual Training 2: How Do We “Do” Empathy in Education? Lessons From Journalism and User Experience in Tech (Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019, 2 hours)
Mara Zepeda, Switchboard | Lowell Reade

2 Day Intensive Onsite in Portland, OR + 2 Days at ListenUp EDU (April 15–18, 2019)

The Hero’s Journey in Higher Education, Mara Zepeda
Workplace Innovation Tour and Q&A, Stephen Green @ WeWork Labs
What If I Trusted You? Jerry Michalski
The Future of Work, April Rinne
How to Build Team Capacity for Listening, Chelsea Haring
Designing for the End User, Terrazign
‘Continuity Canvas’ and Innovation Lab Tour, Uncorked Studios
Tour of MilkRun, Canby, OR and farm-to-table dinner

Virtual Training 3: Facilitating Change in Higher Education
(Tuesday, June 4, 2019, 2 hours)
Chelsea Haring, Switchboard | Brittany Paulk, Arizona State University

Virtual Training 4: Using Social Listening to Define End User Needs and Brand Health
(Tuesday, July 9th, 2019, 2 hours)
Liz Gross, Campus Sonar

Virtual Training 5: User Experience and Service Design in Higher Ed: Part 1
(Tuesday, August 6th, 2019, 2 hours)
Joe Catrino, Trinity College | Chelsea Haring, Switchboard

Virtual Training 6: User Experience and Service Design in Higher Ed: Part 2
(Tuesday, September 10, 2019, 2 hours)
Joe Catrino, Trinity College | Chelsea Haring, Switchboard


Learn how to make change that lasts happen on your campus


Do guided, hands-on work with design thinking at your institution


Attend Switchboard’s signature conference, ListenUp EDU


Connect with a network of likeminded professionals across higher education


Hone skills that help you help increase your entire team’s capacity


Gain access to a library of templates, exercises, and other resources

As a participant in the HEIF program, I am gaining not only a better intellectual understanding of the challenges facing higher ed, but also a practical skillset grounded in design thinking. It is an action-oriented curriculum that will benefit my institution and my career.

Kayla McCulley
Director of Alumni Learning and Career Programs
Pomona College

Meet the Fellows 


Dana Maze Ehrlich

Alumnae Volunteer, Smith College | Alumnae/i Engagement Consultant, AlumFocus


Kayla McCulley

Director of Alumni Learning and Career Programs, Pomona College


Rachel Finch

Director of External Relations, Oregon State University Career Center


Madeleine DelVicario

Program Coordinator at the Office of Alumnae Relations, Smith College

Greg Flores

Associate Director of Career Services, Portland State University


Yuliya Dennis

Director of Alumni Career Services, Oregon State University Alumni Association


Andrew Wright

Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Concordia University


Kassie Infante

Assistant Director of Alumni, Phillips Academy Andover


Julia Lapan

Director of Career Development, Center for Engineering, University of Virginia


David DeMarkis

Doctoral Intern, Texas Association of School Administrators


Ellen Roof

Program Director of Young Alumni Giving, University of Notre Dame

Meet the HEIF Faculty

April Rinne

April Rinne

Founder, April Worldwide


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April Rinne is equal parts global authority, advocate, ally and adventurer. She is an independent advisor focused on the new economy, the future of work, and global citizenship. She works with startups and established companies, local and national governments, policy makers, think tanks, investors, and educational institutions, working across for-profit and non-profit models. Her areas of expertise include business model innovation, policy reform, and sustainable development. She is known for her skill in bridging the private, public and social sectors.

In addition to her advisory portfolio, April is a sought-after keynote speaker and regularly contributes to news and media about the themes highlighted above. She's also an inveterate globetrotter, having traveled to more than 100 countries, worked in more than 50, and lived overseas for ten years (including four years traveling with a backpack, shoestring budget, no permanent address, and the goal of seeing how much of the rest of the world lives—in order to understand first-hand how to develop a career of service and social impact).

April holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School, an M.A. in International Business and Finance from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, and a B.A. summa cum laude from Emory University. She is a Fulbright Scholar and has also studied at Oxford University, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and the European University Institute.

Jerry Michalski.jpg

Jerry Michalski

Founder, REX


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During Jerry's dozen years as a tech-industry trends analyst, he helped shape the dot-com revolution, particularly helping its participants see what we now call social media. He has since worked with the Institute for the Future, the Idea Factory and other organizations focused on innovation and the future, as well as starting his own think-and-do tank around the topic of trust.

His journey to trust started in the mid-90s, when he realized that he didn't like the term "consumer." Over time, he realized that we had "consumerized" every sector of human activity, including education, and that this process had broken trust in many ways. The optimistic insights—and the reasons for his excitement to work with HEIF participants—were that groups around the world are busy rediscovering trust, fixing many of society's problems.

Jerry is a consultant, facilitator, speaker, adviser and writer; he also publishes his Brain online, openly.

Jess Columbo

Jess Columbo

Founder and Principle Strategist, Med|Ed Digital


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Jess brings more than a decade of experience developing award-winning digital and social programs for clients in regulated industries. Her team's expertise lies at the intersection of creative brand storytelling, business strategy, and digital analytics.

Jess holds a Masters in Digital Journalism and teaches content strategy, web writing, and PR at Portland State University. In her spare time, she manages a Pro Bono Partnership Program, connecting non-profits in need with talented creative and digital professionals.


Lowell Reade

UX Researcher


Chelsea Haring

Chelsea Haring

COO, Switchboard | Founder, HEIF


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In her role, Chelsea works with institutions to assess their technology, training and professional development goals and develop solutions to meet their needs. She specializes in bringing front facing teams together to create workflows for engaging alumni across the institution to drive alumni career education and recruiting initiatives.

Chelsea brings 14 years of experience in higher education and technology. She spent time at Johns Hopkins University, Wingate University, and Portland State University in career services and alumni career services roles. She has spent the past few years bringing her wealth of experience to ed tech startups. She has partnered with over 150 institutions as a consultant and has spent time at startups like Handshake and Switchboard.

Mara Zepeda

Mara Zepeda

Co-founder & CEO, Switchboard


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Switchboard was born from Mara's background working in higher education administration, at places like Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania, as well as her experience in alumni leadership as a member of the alumni board at her alma mater, Reed College. Her background as an economic reporter for National Public Radio, where she reported on the impact of student debt on the nation's economy, also informed the need for the solution.

Mara graduated with honors from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism where she focused on digital media, business, and network theory.


Learn More About HEIF

Download our executive summary

Want to learn more about the HEIF curriculum? Looking for something to share with a colleague or your boss to convince them that it's worth investing in? Download our one-page PDF: