Using Design Thinking in the Classroom

2015_design_thinking.jpg Students turn ideas for improvement into reality and become leaders along the way

Find a problem and fix it - that's the challenge for every student at Mount Mary University, where Leadership for Social Justice is a required class for first-year undergraduate students, and an introduction to the spirit of the University.

By identifying a problem they see in their community, empathizing with those involved, suggesting a solution and testing a prototype, students actively put into practice the concepts of Design Thinking, said Dean of Academic Affairs Dr. Wendy Weaver, who is teaching one of the sections of the class.

As the semester draws to a close, students have been prepping for final presentations of their creative solutions. Most classes work with a non-profit throughout the semester for projects. Dr. Weaver's class focused on Mount Mary. Here's a look at two of the projects students took from inception to completion this semester:

Promoting resources for mental illness

After learning that one in four people have mental illness, one group focused on increasing marketing and promotion for the Accessibility Services Office within the Student Success Center.

"We weren't sure if people were aware of the accessibility resources available on campus; I want to make sure they know that the Student Success Center is here to help them," says Kaitlyn Mueller, a freshman at Mount Mary.

Building international understanding

Another group found their inspiration from one of its members - an international student from Micronesia. As an international student, Maylani Pelep, Business Administration major, identifies "the people, the language, and the food…everything" as being a challenging transition for her.

To creatively help international students like Maylani adjust to a new culture, this group created an interactive board game in the style of "The Game of Life," and highlighted countries from which international Mount Mary students call home. Players travel from country to country, learning about food, customs, and other aspects of culture. The group thinks that a game is a light way to learn about various cultures. The game will be on reserve at the Haggerty Library, and people can request the librarian to see and play the game.

Learning for campus and beyond

The learning goals of this project include development of critical and creative thinking, emphasis on working as part of a team, and effective writing and speaking skills. Using design thinking, the groups were able to ground their ideas and even test prototypes.

"It's just a lot of thinking. We struggled a lot. And it made us think of others' perspectives," says Marissa Jarvis, a freshman at Mount Mary.

Learning this process, from beginning to end, isn't just a requirement for the University; it is a skill for life.

"Whatever your professional and personal goals might be, a Mount Mary education prepares you to consider life decisions from a social justice perspective," said Dr. Weaver. "The Leadership for Social Justice Seminar is the starting point."