February 6, 2019. By Anthony Norris:

To start off 2019’s year of giving, I elected to volunteer as a judge at Bryant University’s IDEA (Innovation and Design Experience for All) competition at the recommendation of my colleague and Bryant Alumna, Ashley Agnew. The competition is a 3-day intensive course required for all freshmen which teaches students about design thinking and team collaboration. Given challenging scenarios, students are tasked with finding creative solutions by following the design thinking process. Working in teams of 3 to 5 peers, students begin researching their respective topics through sight visits and compiling findings. Teams then go through vigorous exercises in brainstorming, team collaboration and problem solving. One of the primary exercises involves a 20 second intensive brainstorming session that focuses on quantity of ideas rather than quality. Once complete teams filter through feasible suggestions, make adjustments, and connect ideas. From there, students answer “How might we” questions, forcing them to address the pertinent issues. This process can be challenging as it involves effectively collaborating with teammates and deciding on ideas all in the name of formulating a single solution.

Prior to arriving to their final products teams present within their respective cohorts to other teams answering the same question to receive criticisms and feedback.  From there it is a marathon to complete projects prior to 3pm the next day. During the judges briefing, we were told that one group completely changed their project thanks to the process, and in turn stayed up till 3am working on the new vision.

As a recent Bryant graduate myself and former participant of the program, this volunteering experience was particularly special. Having been on the other side of the table, I sympathized with the students and the amount of work that went into their projects and presentations.  Judges were instructed to focus on the process, evolution of the team, and arrival to a solution rather than the viability of the final product or projected costs. Students received high marks when they could speak to the success and challenges they faced and how the design thinking process worked along the way. I was tasked with judging two cohorts. The first was challenged to create ways that college cafeterias can better promote nutritious eating, and the second had to find way to improve the Boys and Girls Club. What blew me away was how creative and thorough the solutions were. Many students agreed that the process was overwhelming at times, especially when it came to sifting all of the ideas, however in the end they felt the program offered valuable lessons. Additionally, their efforts resulted in solutions that students were proud to share with the judges.

The goal of the program is to foster a culture of innovation within the university and provide the skills needed to work effectively in a group. Not only does the program prepare students for their time at Bryant, but also ensures they have valuable attributes for their professional careers.  Allison Butler, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Applied Psychology and director of the IDEA Program states the following:

“Through the process of learning this methodology, students are naturally building their skills in collaboration and communication, and they are learning the value of feedback and iteration. These are skills that will give them a leading edge in future academic and professional pursuits.”

The above quote perfectly sums up the experience from the student’s point of view. As a judge, it was wonderful to give back to a program that help shaped my own foundation of learning. To learn more about the IDEA program, visit news.bryant.edu.