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Design thinking and University Innovation Fellows at Fordham

Undergraduate | Apr 16, 2019 |

Design thinking is about solving human-centered problems and it has become one of the business soft skills necessary for the workforce of the future. In fact, organizations and individuals are using design thinking tools to develop creative potential.

According to Prof. Bozena Mierzejewska, of the Gabelli School’s communication and media management area, design thinking assumes that everyone can be an innovator and encourages collaborative team work and empathy to understand problems. “However, teaching design thinking is about learning by doing, rather than reading books and listening to lectures,” she said.

For this reason, the Gabelli School of Business teamed up with the University Innovation Fellows (UIF), a program designed to empower students around the world to become leaders and agents of change in higher education, and championed a Gabelli undergraduate student team that embarked on a journey to develop design thinking skills and innovate on campus.

The UIF was developed and organized by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school) and each year the program selects teams from universities around the world who receive on-line training in design thinking, get support from their faculty champion and take part in regional and global events such as conferences and annual gatherings. The program offers the Fellows guidance and support to drive change on their home campuses and increase student engagement with design thinking, innovation and creativity.

In fall 2018, the first cohort of undergraduate Fordham Gabelli students: Caterina Carra, Julia Butler, Darr Fuchs and Theodore Stratis III, were accepted to the UIF program. This team represents one of 96 higher education institutions from 16 countries. After being selected, the Gabelli School’s Fellows underwent an initial six-week training session which connected them with a global student network to examine Fordham’s innovation ecosystem and find the best place where they could make a difference, formulate an action plan and implement their ideas. “This intensive training provided our Fellows with essential skills and knowledge of design thinking and equipped them with the appropriate tools and resources alongside weekly coaching sessions and deliverables,” Mierzejewska said. 

Using the training, the Fellows formulated their challenge around the following question: How might we bring design thinking and a design-centered mindset to the broader Fordham community?  The Fellows then developed a design thinking workshop prototype and tested it in two pop-up events on both campuses. They prepared reports, created a Wiki page documenting their observations and suggestions for strategic priorities, organized stakeholder meetings and developed a prototype to the challenge they identified. Based on the deep understanding of the landscape of learning opportunities available at Fordham, the Fellows designed and implemented activities to enhance that landscape. Through their activities, they’ve been able to represent the collective student voice in the conversation about the future of education on campus.

After completing two prototype pop-ups, equipped with collected data, the Fellows proceeded to prepare the full roll-out of the “Design Thinking Workshop” to as many undergraduate students as possible and integrate it into the “Career Exploration Integrated Project” course offered to all Gabelli Freshmen. This course lends itself to experimentation, since one of the course learning objectives is to explore one’s career path and opportunities. A series of 13 workshops took place between February 20-28, where the Fellows conveyed the principles of design thinking to over 600 students.

The work that went into the development of this project had a demonstrable impact on our student community and secured an invitation for the Fordham Fellows to the UIF Global Meet-up in Dubai taking place in April 2019. This conference provides an opportunity for our students to meet other Fellows, share their impacts, attend experiential workshops and visit innovation centers in Google’s Middle East Headquarters and the University of Abu Dhabi. 

Mierzejewska is beyond excited for the honor bestowed to the first cohort, stating that “This is such an exciting time for the Fellows and I am so thrilled that they will meet other UIF teams and present their project to a global network of students.  This is the type of opportunity that will make a lasting impact.”

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