Beyond IDEA: Design thinking skills carry over to coursework, employment
Aug 23, 2018

“I just made something I didn’t even know I could make. Through this process, I ended up creating something new and innovative!”

That's how Olivia Sampson '21 described her experience learning about design thinking, used by some of the world's most creative companies. It’s a skill that's introduced to all Bryant first-year students during the three-day Innovation and Design Experience for All (IDEA), now in its sixth year.

Answering the call for problem-solvers

One component of IDEA challenges first-year students, working in teams, to use design thinking to address a real-world problem in business or the community. Mentored by a dedicated group of upperclassmen, faculty, staff, and alumni volunteers, the 875 participants discovered new competencies – and a new mindset that prepares them for the 21st Century economy.

Bryant students say the design thinking skills they discovered as first-year students become second nature.

As part of this year's IDEA, which took place Jan. 22-24, Sampson, of Melrose, MA, worked with her team to explore the question: How can hotel lobbies better enhance customer satisfaction? 

“I never fully realized how important creativity is in the business world,” said teammate Lindsey Coe '21, a finance major from Pittsfield, MA. The team's idea: Reduce long lines by introducing tablets that incorporate smart-speaker technology (similar to Amazon’s Alexa) that hotel guests can use to register, procure a room key, and find information on hotel services and local activities—all in one step, from the comfort of a hotel lobby armchair.

Design thinking throughout the curriculum

Rapid changes in technology, combined with a global environment that’s increasingly complex and interconnected, have created the need for a new type of worker. That’s why Bryant University is answering employers' call for innovative leaders and problem solvers who possess critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and connectivity skills, as well as perseverance and grit.

The IDEA course is the cornerstone of Bryant’s approach to preparing these graduates. Students are taught the process used to generate innovation. Shortcuts in thinking are jettisoned for critical and creative thinking, feedback, and continuous revision. And it’s all done collaboratively.

As a result, Bryant students say the design thinking skills they discovered as first-year students become second nature. “What’s great about IDEA is, you have these skills you've been taught that now come naturally whenever you need them,” says Allie Spica '18, an IDEA student mentor. “I’ve used them in my communication classes, my marketing classes, and in different organizations around campus.” In this way, students continue to use and hone their skills throughout their Bryant years.

They can also take additional courses in design thinking, or experience parts of the process through innovative pedagogies Bryant faculty are building into an increasing number of courses.

A positive effect on employment opportunities

While IDEA is changing students' habits of mind, it has an equally positive impact on students’ employment opportunities. David Shannon '17 says he uses the principles he learned at IDEA on a daily basis in his work at Liberty Mutual. Nina Luiggi '18 incorporated design thinking concepts into her internship at Caravan Studios, a San Francisco non-profit. “Design thinking got me my internship at Cigna last summer, which was a very competitive opportunity,” says Spica. 

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