Published 01/27/14

IDEA: Take risks, fail, try again

IDEA showcaseYou’re a first-year student at the start of the second semester. You are assigned a team and a mission: redesign a college classroom, reduce the carbon footprint of shopping malls, or eliminate gender stereotypes of toy stores, among others.

You have 36 hours and a cohort of peers to devise a solution. No poster boards, no PowerPoints. You’re competing with 893 students to impress 40 judges whose experiences range from starting their own companies to the regional head of sales at RBS Citizens. And you only have five minutes to pitch your concept.

The course focuses on thinking critically through an idea, making judgments, working as a team.

Welcome to Bryant University’s second annual Innovation and Design Experience for All (IDEA) program, which took place Jan. 20-22, immersing first-year students in the three phases of design thinking: inspiration, ideation, and implementation, followed by iteration. The one-credit IDEA course, a feature of Bryant’s nationally recognized First-Year Gateway Experience , focuses on encouraging innovation and entrepreneurialism and is just one facet of the University’s Vision 2020 strategic plan. 

The course “is not about memorizing from a book – which is how we learned 30 years ago. This is about how to think through an idea, how to critically think, how to make judgments … how to work as a team,” says Jay Weinberg ’85, president of The Jay Group in Chicago – one of 36 alumni who returned to campus to impart their real-world knowledge and challenge the next generation of Bryant graduates.

“The questions that I’m asking are tough questions … I don’t know if I would have been able to answer the same questions when I was a freshman,” says Vinton South ’10, executive team leader of logistics for Target. “By challenging them, I’m setting them up to succeed.”

Not even winter storm Janus, which dumped more than 12 inches of snow on some parts of Rhode Island Tuesday evening, could cool the students’ creative energy.  

“You didn’t shrink from the challenge. You embraced it,” Bryant Trustee Professor Michael Roberto, D.B.A., director of the University’s Center for Program Innovation and leader of the IDEA development team, told the Class of 2017 at the program’s closing ceremony. “You learned it’s okay to take risks, to fail, and to try again.”

“When these young people come into the field and people know they’re from Bryant, they make me proud,” says Steve Berman ’68 who, as a mentor, brought to the table more than 45 years of success in the food industry with organizations such as Pepsi-Cola, ConAgra, and Tribe Mediterranean Foods.

The emphasis on working effectively in teams, a skill honed throughout the IDEA program and refined throughout the Bryant experience, is essential to success, Berman notes.