Bryant University’s IDEA (Innovation and Design Experience for All) program is an intensive three-day introduction to design thinking and human-centered problem solving that brings the entire community of faculty, staff, alumni, and students together to prepare the University’s first-year students to excel during their time at Bryant and beyond.
For IDEA’s student mentors, however, it offers something more, a chance to further develop their design thinking and leadership skills while giving back to a program that’s made a difference in their studies and in their lives.
“IDEA is important to so many of us at Bryant because we believe in the design thinking process and we’ve seen it work,” says Matthew Barnett ’19 who spent the summer as a Creative Marketing Intern with CVS, where he used design thinking to help the retail and health care giant find creative approaches to big projects. “I want to pass that on.”
An incredible asset
Trained in design thinking and selected from Bryant’s highest-performing students, IDEA’s student mentors play a crucial role helping guide first year students through the design thinking learning process and serving as an important bridge between the first-year students and the faculty and staff mentors, having gone through the process themselves.
“We believe that when you learn to think like a design thinker, you become excellent at critical thinking. You become an excellent collaborator. You develop skills in verbal and visual communication. You learn to seek out critical feedback. You learn to embrace and apply that feedback and iterate your thinking and your solutions so that you arrive at more innovative ideas in the end,” says IDEA Director and Associate Professor of Applied Psychology Allison Butler, Ph.D.
“Student mentors are a critical factor in the success of the Bryant IDEA program,” notes faculty mentor Emily Copeland, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer, History and Social Sciences. “First-year students gain a deeper appreciation of the potential usefulness and applicability of design thinking after hearing from student mentors how the program has impacted them.”
“My IDEA mentor inspired me when I was a first year student. I want to make the difference for someone else" Emma Stewart ’19
Student mentor Emma Stewart ’19 used her IDEA experience to secure internships with Liberty Mutual, they were so impressed with her work she was offered a position in their Human Resources Development Program upon graduation. “Bryant is such an incredible school and I think IDEA pushes it one step further,” says Stewart. “It’s such a unique asset for first year students.”
Part of that unique asset, she believes, is the strong bonds mentors form with the first-year students in their group. “My IDEA mentor inspired me when I was a first year student,” she explains. “I want to make the difference for someone else. I told all of the students in my group, ‘I want to be a resource, even after IDEA is over. If you ever need me for anything, all you have to do is reach out.”
For Juliana Mandile ’22, a first-year student in Stewart’s group, her time with her mentor helped her get a handle on how to leverage her future. “Emma sat with me and talked about all of the internships and other things that IDEA opened up for her and how it can help me with those things too,” she remembers.
The next level
“The first-year students in IDEA have amazing ideas,” says student mentor Michael McCarthy ’19, “but they don’t necessarily have the experience with design thinking we have. One of our jobs as mentors is to help them harness those great ideas.”
“We try to facilitate their thought process as someone who’s been there before. I want to help give them what they need to move forward and do great things,” says McCarthy who recently honed his design thinking skills through a project for Keurig with Bryant Trustee Professor of Management and design thinking expert Mike Roberto, D.B.A. ”It’s amazing to see how the students grow and change from the beginning of the program to the end.”
“Our mentor kept challenging us to find the best versions of our ideas,” affirms Matthew Carabillo ’22, a member of Barnett’s group. “Whenever we showed him something, he always asked us ‘how can we make it even better?’”
In many ways, the student mentors say, IDEA is as rewarding for them as it is for the first-year students. “At the end of IDEA, when the students all present their projects, you feel like a proud parent,” says student mentor Claudia Dionne ’19, whose design thinking experience proved invaluable during an internship with Cox Communications. “They’re explaining the ideas that you helped teach them, and talking about how they went through the design thinking process. It's really awesome to see all the incredible things that they created."