SMITHFIELD, RI—Every year, all Bryant first-year students begin their journey toward becoming future-ready innovators equipped with 21st century skills through the Bryant IDEA—Innovation and Design Experience for All—program.
Marking 10 years in January 2022 (24-26), IDEA is an innovative, immersive three-day experience, or “boot camp,” where students learn and immediately apply the design thinking method to develop real-world solutions for regional businesses, organizations, and communities. In the process of bringing their ideas to life, students develop critical 21st century thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, and problem solving skills.
"Ten years ago, a group of Bryant faculty set out to reimagine the way they teach and how students learn. They recognized that the fast-changing world and unpredictable future would demand more of graduates than ever before."
IDEA is a key component of Bryant’s Gateway program, an award-winning first-year curriculum nationally recognized by organizations including the Davis Educational Foundation and Hanover Research.
Building critical 21st century skills
The IDEA program embodies and advances the most valuable and differentiating aspects of a Bryant education—building critical skills through immersive, experiential learning in a community that values and supports the potential and path of each individual student. In the 10 years since it launched, IDEA has helped more than 8,000 students develop an innovative mindset and to thrive and succeed at Bryant and far beyond.
The entire Bryant community mobilizes in support of the IDEA program. About 200-plus faculty, staff, student, alumni and parent mentors, and about 200 alumni and regional business leaders who serve as judges (think Shark Tank), come together to help all of the university’s first-year students—about 700 this year—learn how to think, design and create like innovators.
Students tackle real challenges for regional businesses and nonprofit organizations including the New England Patriots Hall of Fame and the YMCA. And, they take on some of the most complex issues of the day such as the future of work; diversity, equity and inclusion; mental health, and financial literacy.
“Ten years ago, we had our own "blue sky, wild idea"—and that was Bryant IDEA. My colleagues and I—with the leadership, participation, and support of the entire university—started a movement."
From “wild ideas” to innovative solutions
For an action-packed three days, on a campus that looks more like a Silicon-valley start up, students are encouraged to “think wild ideas” as they take part in a process that simulates the fast-moving, rapid prototyping, innovative way of doing business practiced by many of the largest, most successful companies in the world, including Amazon, Google, Apple and Tesla. IDEA sponsors AAA Northeast and EY have seen the value of design thinking firsthand as they use the process themselves.
Nearly every space on campus—from the Innovation Forum to the Data Visualization Lab to just about every classroom—becomes a training, design and prototyping space. And, there isn’t an answer key in sight. It’s all about the design thinking process—empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test—a human-centered approach to creating, problem solving and product development.
This year, Duncan Wardle, former Head of Innovation and Creativity at the Walt Disney Company will return as keynote speaker to offer students guidance and inspiration.
Reimagining teaching and learning
When Professor of Psychology and program Director Allison Butler, Ph.D., reflects on how IDEA started and why it has become such differentiating aspect of the Bryant education, she credits innovative collaboration. “Ten years ago, a group of Bryant faculty set out to reimagine the way they teach and how students learn,” she said. “They recognized that the fast-changing world and unpredictable future would demand more of graduates than ever before. They knew that education must do more than convey disciplinary knowledge and practice.”
That forward thinking group of faculty and several dedicated staff include Michael A. Roberto, D.B.A., Trustee Professor of Management and founding Program Director; Lori Coakley, Ph.D., Professor of Management, Rich Holtzman, Associate Professor of Political Science; James Segovis, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Management (retired); Rich Hurley, former Director of Student Life; Kristin Ridge, former Director of Residential Education; and Bob Shea, Ph.D.; former AVP for Teaching and Learning and Gateway program founder.
“Together, they looked for a better way to teach students to think critically, tap their creative potential, test and develop new ideas to solve the world’s most difficult or “wicked” problems. This journey of exploration was the genesis of the IDEA program,” Butler added.
“The IDEA program teaches a set of creative problem-solving skills that employers have repeatedly emphasized as critical capabilities for 21st century contributors in the workforce, no matter the field or industry,” said Roberto who passed the baton to Butler in 2018.
"We can’t wait to see what the future brings for the program and for our amazing students.”
Future adaptation and innovation built in
Program founders applied the design thinking process to developing the IDEA program in 2013. Their design included a mechanism for future leaders to continually innovate, update, and adapt the program to meet the needs of future generations.
Each year faculty, staff and mentors evaluate the program, get feedback from all participants, consider the evolving needs of students and continually update and improve the program. Because of this process, IDEA continues to grow and contribute to the success of thousands of students and recent graduates.
IDEA started a movement
“Ten years ago, we had our own ‘blue sky, wild idea,’ and that was Bryant IDEA,” said Butler. “My colleagues and I—with the leadership, participation, and support of the entire university—started a movement. And now, in 2022, the momentum for innovation, creativity, and teamwork has never been stronger. We can’t wait to see what the future brings for the program and for our amazing students.”
Related article: "Meeting the Challenge of Developing Innovative Problem-Solving Students Using Design Thinking and Organizational Behavior Concepts," published by Coakley, Roberto, and Segovis in the Business Education Journal in 2014 after launching IDEA.