Published 01/24/13

The big IDEA: Creativity and an innovative way of teaching

SMITHFIELD, R.I. -- If weather radar could track brainstorms, the Bryant campus was the eye of the storm Jan. 21 through Jan. 23. That’s when 746 first-year students and more than 100 faculty, staff, alumni and upperclassmen took part in the University’s inaugural Innovation Design Experience for All.

IDEA, as it is known, is a three-day component of Bryant’s nationally recognized First-Year Gateway Experience , an innovative curriculum that is changing the way teachers and students approach learning.

Design thinking – a process of observation, brainstorming, and rapid prototyping

The experiential 72-hour project challenged 155 teams of first-year students to develop a solution to one of 31 challenges revealed to them on the first day. For example, how might a hotel redesign its lobby to improve customer satisfaction? What can supermarkets do to promote healthy eating without denting profits?

To help students become creative problem-solvers and effective collaborators, IDEA introduces them to design thinking – a process of observation, brainstorming, and rapid prototyping that is used by some of the most innovative companies around the world.

Creativity can be taught

Creativity isn’t linked to a gene; it can be taught and nurtured, Trustee Professor Michael Roberto, D.B.A., told the IDEA participants. Roberto, director of Bryant’s Center for Program Innovation and a member of the IDEA development team, was among the 100-plus faculty, staff, alumni and upperclassmen who served as mentors to the student teams.

Students boarded buses and fanned out across Rhode Island the afternoon of Jan. 21 to conduct field research that would inform their projects. By 5 p.m. Jan. 23, they were demonstrating their solutions to teams of judges in the hope of winning one of six cash prizes. Throughout, they learned about their work styles, team dynamics, how to gather information, formulate questions and develop hypotheses – and plenty about trial and error. “You have to be willing to fail,” Roberto told the students at the outset. Quoting Steve Jobs, Roberto challenged the students to “put a dent in the universe,” and urged them toward lofty goals by quoting Michelangelo: "The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.”

IDEA offers a different way of teaching, one developed “to help you understand how to use design thinking in your life,” President Ronald K. Machtley told the students on the event’s opening day. “We hope that when you go out as an employee and leader and reflect back on these next 72 hours, you can say ‘I learned something which transformed my life.’”

Blue Sky meets Get It Done

"We all were on a new adventure, one unlike any other in Bryant’s 150-year history."

Michael Roberto

By the end of the three days, many students agreed they had been transformed in some way. Pat Curran, a member of a team tasked with redesigning gas stations to increase revenue and customer satisfaction, found himself somewhere between exhausted and exhilarated as the judges began their critiques the evening of Jan. 23. “The Bryant IDEA was a great program,” he said. “I know I will use much of what I learned – from working in teams, to thinking and encouraging wild ideas and deferring judgment – throughout the rest of my life.”

“We never judged anyone’s idea, and that allowed us to gather really good ideas,” recalled Kristen McCarthy, a member of a team designing a student center that meets the needs of students in the 21st century.

Casey Jones and Alec Cabral, two members of a team imagining how a brick and mortar video game store might effectively compete with Amazon.com and other electronic purchase options, appreciated the time the program devoted to helping team members get to know one another and understand how to incorporate the best of each of their distinct personality traits. Cabral was the blue-sky thinker, always offering another idea. The team, filled with mostly let’s-get-this-done personalities, appreciated his creativity and he appreciated their being able to signal when it was time to turn that creativity into action. “We worked well with one another and were able to play off each other’s strengths,” said Jones.

Turning classroom experience 'on its head'

“You changed over these three days,” Roberto told the students at the closing ceremony Jan. 23.   “You walked in not knowing what to expect. … We all were on a new adventure, one unlike any other in Bryant’s 150-year history." Faculty were changed, too, Roberto said, by the challenge to turn "the traditional teacher-student relationship on its head “

Jose-Marie Griffiths, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs, agreed.  “The transformations will be interesting to watch, not just among the students and their application of what they experienced and learned, but also among the faculty and staff in their future classes, work environments and interactions,” she said. Preparing for the three-day event was “cross-functional engagement at its best.”

Six teams won cash prizes ($500 per team) for their work:

  • Brian Cadigan, Christian Debeauport, Alyssa Marcello, Natalia Pires, and Robert Wallace for their project to redesign hotel lobbies to promote customer satisfaction. (Faculty mentor Billie Anderson, staff mentor John Eriksen, student mentor Donald Mendenhall, alumni mentor Carol Shibley '73)
  • Emily Boots, Jerry Fang, Kevin Hong, Stephen Springer, and Jenny Young for their project to improve university gathering spaces. (Faculty mentor Maura Dowling, staff mentor Daphney Joseph, student mentor Aaron Pereira, alumni mentor Ray Grigelevich '91, '00 MBA)
  • Cameron Barnett, James Davitt, Jared Hebert, Dylan Paiva, and Kinjal Thakkar for their project to help Providence’s performing arts organizations attract more customers and donors. (Faculty mentor Jongsung Kim, staff mentor Stephanie Perry, student mentor Tom Burke, alumni mentor Adam Short '10 MBA)
  • Jackie Canal, Stephanie Davidson, Lindsay Hanson, Aman Parikh, and Aimee Sinewitz for their project to redesign supermarkets to provide a better shopping experience for parents with young children. (Faculty mentor Allison Butler, staff mentor Rebecca Eriksen, student mentor Kelsey Nowak, alumni mentor Steve Berman '68)
  • Aaron Dixon, Jenna Limone, Matthew Maziarz, Emily Socha, and James Wood for their project to redesign restaurant drive-throughs to increase customer satisfaction. (Faculty mentor Madan Annavarjula, staff mentor Melanie Cluley, student mentor Alex Bigelow)
  • Jordan Davie-Stefanik, Gunner Johnson, Marc Monestime, Anthony Rubiano, and Broderick Zisko for their project to help colleges such as Bryant increase the percentage of women students. (Faculty mentor Diya Das, staff mentor Caitlin Hansen, student mentor Hillary Coombs, alumni mentor Shannon Dunnigan, '93, '97 MBA)