Professor Coakley and student walk on campus
Bryant’s distinguished faculty are regular contributors to a wide variety of scholarly publications and conference forums that advance knowledge in higher education. Recent contributions include research presented at the International Society of Professional Innovation Management (ISPIM) conference and “Design Thinking in the Digital Age” accepted for publication in the summer 2018 issue of AMA Quarterly, the journal of The American Management Association. In this article, excerpted from the spring issue of Bryant magazine, six faculty members, including Professor of Management Lori Coakley, Ph.D., above, discuss the growing importance of including design thinking, experiential learning, analytical skills and emotional intelligence in the Bryant curriculum.
Lessons in navigating the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Jun 19, 2018

In addition to their dedication as world-class teachers, many Bryant faculty are highly sought after as expert consultants who are helping organizations navigate the dramatic changes precipitated by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Increasingly, their expertise in design thinking and “the Bryant method” for cultivating innovation skills that has been honed in the IDEA program provide a crucial perspective that is in demand by both businesses and academic peers.

"The breadth and depth [of experiential learning at Bryant] is not isolated to just during senior year; it’s throughout the curriculum and starts freshman year."

Throughout our 155-year history, Bryant has been known in particular for its applied, real-world approach to education that supplies graduates with highly marketable skills and experiences. This differentiator has perhaps never been more important, considering the seismic shifts now taking place across all industries. Organizations everywhere are experiencing the disruptive infusion of technology into the marketplace by small, nimble players. 

Bryant graduates easily find their place and thrive in this environment – and it’s no coincidence. The University has purposefully created a culture of innovation, and, thanks to its faculty of highly regarded scholars and industry practitioners, has developed a new model for higher education—one that anticipates the future in a changing world. The University’s innovative curriculum prepares students not only for jobs immediately after graduation, but for the kind of work that will exist 30 years from now, when, according to one highly cited study by Oxford University, advancements in automation, fueled by new technologies and artificial intelligence, will have taken over 47 percent of all jobs.

Experiential learning for the 21 st century

Experiential learning, or real-world experiences where students apply concepts learned in class, is not new in higher education. However, Bryant’s innovative model infuses these kinds of experiences throughout the curriculum, often in strategic partnerships with businesses and organizations. The International Business and Global Supply Chain Practicum programs give students the chance to develop strategies for businesses around the world.

As Trustee Professor of Management Michael Roberto, D.B.A. says, “Many schools say they’re doing experiential learning, but the breadth and depth here is not isolated to just during senior year; it’s throughout the curriculum and starts freshman year. The exposure our students are getting to companies through the classroom is unparalleled.”

"By throwing them into the project, they have to stumble, fall, dust themselves off, and move on. This is how we’re preparing leaders for the future."

From group projects, practicum experiences, and academic competitions to case competitions, whether they’re pitching a marketing strategy to C-suite executives as freshmen or helping a regional company expand internationally as seniors, these real-world experiences provide students with applied knowledge as well as ample opportunity to enhance  critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation skills, known in current educational literature as the 4Cs and considered essential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Professor of Management Chris Roethlein, Ph.D., founded and manages the senior-level Practicum experience for the Global Supply Chain Management major. For the Practicum, Bryant student teams partner with executives at major corporations to tackle some of their biggest challenges including data management, analytics, logistics, inventory management, transportation, and vendor contracts. The outcomes for these companies are millions of dollars in savings that reflect the real-world impact of the students’ work. Students gain more than the 4Cs, technical skills, and employment. Roethlein believes the Practicum experience prepares students to handle adversity, which breeds agility and perseverance.

“Practicum projects present complex problems for which there is no clear one answer," Roethlein says. "Every team at some point is struggling, and that’s part of the process. By throwing them into the project, they have to stumble, fall, dust themselves off, and move on. This is how we’re preparing leaders for the future.”

"Two years ago we launched a supply chain analytics class. Now every [supply chain management] class involves analytics."

As organizations across all industries report, disruption is business as usual in today’s environment, a truth that will remain throughout the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Students at Bryant are acclimatized to this reality through coursework. In supply chain management, which has seen the emergence of new technologies early, Director of the Global Supply Chain Management program Teresa McCarthy, Ph.D., says, “We’re continuously updating our curriculum, the courses we offer, and the content in our courses. Two years ago we launched a supply chain analytics class. Now every class involves analytics—it’s necessary to compete successfully in supply chain management.”

Learning to innovate

“Through the power of mobile computing, the average consumer has greater power and expects a seamless customer experience across all channels," McCarthy says. "Millennials drove and shaped this trend, and thus are uniquely positioned to add value to board room decisions where many executives lack the necessary expertise.”

But before students decide innovation is synonymous with technology, they develop skills in the human-centric process known as design thinking, used by some of the world's most innovative companies. Bryant’s nationally recognized IDEA program introduces first-year students to the phases of design thinking: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test. The experience focuses on encouraging innovation and creativity across all disciplines, and students work in teams charged with generating creative solutions to real-world situations in everything from the arts to social services to the business sector. Throughout IDEA, Bryant faculty emphasize the importance of understanding human behavior and iteration based on feedback for generating innovative solutions.

"We try to teach our students the human aspect. We need to empathize with our customers; walk in their shoes."

“What I caution is a way of thinking that views success as ‘it’s all about being digital in a technical age,’" says Professor of Management Lori Coakley, Ph.D. "We try to teach our students the human aspect. We need to empathize with our customers; walk in their shoes. We need to understand their desires. If you remove the human element, then no matter what data you gather, it won’t get to the heart of what customers truly desire; even something they are not yet aware they need. And that’s what design thinking helps us do.”

Associate Professor of Applied Psychology Allison Butler, Ph.D., an expert in educational psychology and IDEA program director, spent her recent sabbatical adapting IDEA to a younger audience, teaching them what K-12 educators call 21 st century skills.

 “To me, the relevance of design thinking is not just the 4Cs the program efficiently instills in our students. It’s also that you become an expert in humans, and humans aren’t going anywhere," she says. "If you’re able to develop emotional intelligence and understand what humans are experiencing, that could put you at an advantage going into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

"If you’re able to develop emotional intelligence ... that could put you at an advantage."

Bryant students today have the opportunity to major in a field that is predicted to play a crucial role in the momentum of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: data science. The University’s newest curricular innovation was established at an important time. Bryant’s Bachelor of Science in Data Science was launched in the fall of 2017 in recognition of a booming field – and a major need. Studies show that demand for data scientists far outstrips supply in every industry.

Data science: quantitative skills for new frontier

Data Science Executive in Residence John Young came to Bryant in January from Epsilon, a $2.3-billion global marketing services firm where he worked for more than 22 years, most recently as Chief Analytics Officer in the firm’s Analytic Consulting Group. Young and his former team of 150 programmers, analysts, statisticians, and consultants helped Fortune 500 brands like Bank of America, Hilton, and FedEx to improve performance and customer experiences through measurement, analysis, and optimization.

"You can do great data science, but without soft skills ... the work will be less valuable."

 “Helping to train the next generation of data scientists is a great way to contribute to a field that is increasingly important to the global economy," he says. "There’s a huge gap in supply and demand for qualified analysts and data scientists, and Bryant is taking steps to help address this marketplace need.”

Young notes that Bryant’s emphasis on creating well-rounded leaders fits very much in this field. “As I saw in my experience, you can do great data science, but without soft skills, which revolve around communication skills, the work will be less valuable. Technical skills are important, but, for students who are going to be future leaders two to three decades from now, the earlier they get the right grounding, the better.”

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