On Monday, 2023's Innovation and Design Experience for All (IDEA), a three-day design thinking program for first-year students, opened with celebration and a call to action. Professor of Psychology and Director of the Bryant IDEA program Allison Butler, Ph.D., shared with more the 900 students taking part in the program the journey they were about to embark upon and why it would be so invaluable.
“By the end of IDEA, I’m confident you will realize how much more creative and how much greater your impact can be when you are open to feedback, join forces with others, consider diverse perspectives, build upon others’ ideas, and gain inspiration from the talented people on your team who see things a little differently than you,” she told the crowd.
The IDEA experience, noted Bryant University Provost and Chief Academic Officer Rupendra Paliwal, Ph.D., will be a pivotal moment for the students. "Getting to the top means transformational learning, working toward exceptional outcomes, and finding your purpose and passion,” Paliwal stated. “The Bryant IDEA program will help you create the foundation for that transformation."
A great start
IDEA is centered around the belief that in order to solve big problems, you need to start with understanding. “Day 1 sets up the entire IDEA program. It establishes the principles of design thinking and really cements the central ideas for the students,” explains IDEA Student Mentor Justin Try ’24, who went through the program in 2019 and has returned to mentor others. “It also helps to change their way of thinking and develop their empathy.”
Workshops on creativity, interviewing, field research, and empathy helped the students expand their skillset in ways that help them see problems, and other people, more clearly. “When you’re working on a project that affects a community, you have to be able to understand that community,” states Terri Hasseler, IDEA Faculty Mentor and Associate Dean of Bryant’s College of Arts and Sciences. “You can’t just think you know best, you need to be able to understand their actual needs.”
“You learn that coming up with great ideas is only half the battle — you have to do what’s best for the person you’re creating for,” reflected IDEA participant Chilhu Jambunathan ’26 as his group discussed the lessons they had learned.
Testing out skills
Secure in their new observation and interviewing skills, the students were asked to put them to the test. Each of the programs 40 student cohorts were assigned a challenge that addresses an important social issue, from re-imagining the future of work to de-stigmatizing mental health issues to developing methods to protect Narragansett Bay, and were given two days to take their best shot at solving it.
In order to better understand their challenge, the cohorts traveled across the region to examine spaces both new and familiar. Cohort 33, tasked with reimagining the moviegoing experience, toured the Showcase de Lux Cinema in North Attleboro to gain inspiration and met with Mark Malinowski, Vice President of Global Marketing for National Amusements, to discuss how the theatre industry was evolving and adapting. For Brayden Hendsey ’26, the visit was eye-opening. “I’ve always been a big movie fan, and I’ve always been interested in the business end of things,” he notes. “But this gives me a little bit different perspective.”
Upon their return to campus, the students conducted empathy interviews with volunteers involved in their subject areas and engaged in a debrief. Pooling their observations, they began to transform them into themes and trends, deriving new and greater insights into their topics.
That’s when the day, with its many lessons and new ideas, truly began to come together, says Kiera Francis ’26 a student in cohort 35. “When you think that you know something, you don't always take into account that other people think in completely different ways,” she says. “But when you start to bring in different perspectives, you realize that there's so much more you can learn.”