Now in its seventh year, the IDEA program – Innovation and Design Experience for All – is an immersive, for-credit required course for first-year students. It is among Bryant’s most innovative, and important, learning experiences.
This groundbreaking, cornerstone program is designed to give students a foundational understanding of design thinking and human-centered problem solving that they will carry forward through the remainder of their college years and into their careers.
It’s challenging. It’s exciting. But students plunged into the intense, three-day boot camp experience, can feel a bit overwhelmed. They’re asked – perhaps for the first time in their educational careers – to think “outside the box.” To step away from their old problem-solving instincts and try something entirely new.
And that’s where mentors come in.
As the students embark on a 72-hour odyssey to learn a design-thinking process used by some of the world’s leading innovators, their journey is facilitated by faculty, and further guided by volunteer upperclass student, staff, and alumni mentors.
Alumni learn alongside students
This year, more than 100 alumni volunteers came back to campus – including graduates from 2018 to 1968 – to share their experience and perspective with the first-year students.
Jeff Fryer ’91, P’19, P’22, CPA is a cofounder of biotech firm Rallybio, and former VP and CTO of Alexion Pharmaceuticals. He has been a mentor and trade show judge in the IDEA program for five years. With two children currently enrolled at Bryant, he especially appreciates the opportunity to continue to contribute here, and says he gets something out of it, too.
“I always learn something from my participation in the IDEA program, and the students are great to interact with. We’re all solving problems every day of our lives, and this program teaches us all to apply creativity and objectivity to that process,” he says. “When you look at a problem from 360 degrees, and collaborate with others, you ultimately get better solutions.”
Drew Diskin ’95, Senior VP at Spa Creek Dental and Executive Management Consultant, agrees. He’s been coming back to campus for IDEA since the program’s second year.
“This design thinking program lets us take a seat with our fellow Bryant students, and learn alongside them,” he says. “We get to share, and help guide at the same time, but we’re also learning as if we’re in the classroom again.”
A critical link between education and industry
Alumni mentors play critical roles in IDEA, serving as a link between students and industry, and bringing their real-world experience back to campus to share. Joining at a vital point in the process, they hear preliminary presentations of the students’ concepts.
“With the Fourth Industrial Revolution upon us, creativity and design thinking will be very important skills to have in the workplace. I think IDEA gives students a competitive advantage, beginning with making the most of their four years here at Bryant.”
Marissa (Faenza) Crean ’81
These professionals provide the student participants with feedback about their ideas, helping to refine their thinking. This reality check helps to ground the students, and make sure their path is clear and effective.
Many alumni mentors then go on to judge the “trade show” portion of the program, a competition where students present their concepts and explain the three-dimensional prototypes they collaborated on to illustrate their ideas.
Jaime Lannon Diglio ’00, new President at SomethingNew, came back to join as an alumni mentor and judge for the first time this year, and says she immediately recognized the value.
“I was inspired by the creative thinking of the students, and how they looked at transforming something like a coffee shop or a bowling alley to better meet the needs of the customers,” she said as she took a break from judging the trade show. “I’m a creative person, and I wish I’d had this program when I was here at Bryant. I really believe in it, because I know how important design thinking is to the future of our businesses.”
“The task of taking an existing concept to increase its value by making it more accessible, efficient, and functional, applies to almost any growing company. The construct and ideas students are learning here will be with them always. They’ll understand the entire problem-solving process, and they’ll have it for the next three years of college and beyond.”
Eileen R. Hayes ’07
Even amidst the flurry of IDEA activities, students see the value alumni bring to the program.
Emma Stewart ’19, who served as an IDEA student mentor, appreciates the contribution alumni make to this first-year experience.
“The alumni who come back are so engaged, and so encouraging,” she says. “And the fact that they still want to come back and be a part of something at Bryant says a lot about this school. They definitely challenge the students to think, and they give great feedback.”