Bryant IDEA 2023 imparted many lessons to the 900 students in this year’s class. After three packed days of workshops, brainstorming sessions, field research, expert visits, and countless prototypes, they developed skills, mindsets, and tools that would prepare them for success. Perhaps most important, however, was the lesson that, with creativity, teamwork, and drive, anything is possible.
Throughout the morning of the third day, the student teams worked to hone their projects, all of which were focused on creating solutions to societal needs. They also held final reflection sessions with their program mentors, where they discussed what they learned and how it could help them build bright futures.
IDEA’s students mentors, all program graduates, have already seen its value firsthand. Annie Harris ’23, the Student Mentor for Cohort 25, used her design thinking training last summer as an intern on Wayfair’s Physical Retail Merchandising team. “I actually mentioned design thinking in my interview and I think it helped set me apart from a lot of the other candidates,” she noted. “I could point to my experience generating new, human-centered ideas that met people’s needs.”
RELATED STORY: Focused on research, IDEA Day 1 establishes foundation for innovation, insight, success
That experience makes a real difference — and is a hallmark of a Bryant education, said IDEA Faculty Mentor Beth Carter. An executive recruiter as well as an Instructor of Management, Carter always advises the students in her cohorts to make sure that IDEA, and the design thinking training they receive, has a prominent place in their resumes. “Simply put, IDEA teaches the skills that companies and organizations are looking for,” she stated.
Raising the bar
Satisfied that their projects represented their very best work, the 40 student cohorts presented their ideas at the Innovation Exhibition, a high-energy showcase of everything they had accomplished. More than 200 innovative prototypes were displayed across campus as the students shared the fruits of three days of experiential learning.
During the exhibition, volunteer judges from the Bryant community queried the students — not only on their innovative ideas but on the process that led them there, ensuring that they had internalized the design thinking process. In addition to giving the students a chance to show off their work, these presentations also offered them a chance to practice their presentation and teamwork skills and to consider the past three days in a new light.
The event culminated in a Shark Tank-style pitch session, where the seven highest-scoring teams, representing assignments from evolving mall food courts to protecting Narragansett Bay, were given three minutes to “sell” their plan to founding members of the IDEA leadership team Professor of Management Lori Coakley and Trustee Professor of Management Michael Roberto. In just a few moments, the first-year students told stories of unique, world-changing solutions they developed, and the lessons that had made those ideas possible.
RELATED STORY: On IDEA Day 2, students transform concepts, research into action
In the end, it was a difficult decision, but the judges had chosen their winner. Given the mission to reinvent health care self-advocacy, first-place finishers Joshua Costello, Nellie Clark, Emily Brogan, and Paxton Hughes, members of Cohort 11, came up with the “Healthy Hands” app, which proposed to transform health care by providing individuals with information and decision-making tools to make the health choices that were right for them while also safe-guarding their privacy.
The students also demonstrated transformations of their own. Embracing the program theme of “Joyful Collaboration,” the team, strangers at the beginning of the program, had joined together to develop something new, from concept to execution. “I think what I’m most proud of is how we worked with each other,” says Clark, who notes that her team was inspired by the opportunity to create a product that could one day better people’s lives. “I think one of the things that came through in our presentations is that we were all so invested in our project because we all had developed it together.”
Beyond IDEA 2023
With the competition concluded, three days came to a close — but the rewards will extend far beyond IDEA 2023. “You are leaving today with sharpened problem-solving, teamwork, and creativity skills. These skills will prepare you for your coursework here at Bryant, your career, and for your life after graduation,” advised Bryant University President Ross Gittell, Ph.D.
IDEA Program Director and Professor of Psychology Allison Butler encouraged the students to use what they’d learned to contribute to the world around them. “Let's continue to embrace the principles of design thinking to push ourselves to new heights of creativity and to identify innovative ways to improve the experiences and lives of others, both on our campus and beyond,” she said. “Now that you are equipped with these new skills and tools, we cannot wait to see what your next great big ideas will be.”
It was a message, Hughes says, that he took to heart. “IDEA is only a three-day course but, at the same time, you learn so much that’s so important,” he reflected. “By learning design thinking, you’re learning how to do things that are extremely valuable anywhere you go. It’s really a game changer and it’s an experience that’s very unique to Bryant.”