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Students Pitch Innovative Duke Programs in Winter Breakaway Design Sprint

A “spicy lunch” where groups of students discuss race-related topics, a custom career exploration system for students, a Durham arts and culture festival held during orientation—these ideas were among those developed by student teams as part of the Design Sprint course of the 2021 Winter Breakaway, which offered undergraduate, graduate, and professional students learning opportunities between semesters.

Using the principles of open design, an equity-focused variation on design thinking, students did a deep dive into the needs, desires, and hopes of the Duke community. Then they moved through a highly iterative process of ideation, prototyping, evaluation, and testing before developing project ideas to share with the Duke Strategy Team 2030 convened by President Price and Provost Kornbluth.

On January 15, the student teams presented their ideas virtually to an audience of faculty and staff including Associate Provost Noah Pickus, Dean Toddi Steelman of the Nicholas School of the Environment, Dean Ravi Bellamkonda of the Pratt School of Engineering, and others. They were led by Kevin Hoch (Managing Director of Education for the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative) and Aria Chernik (Associate Professor of the Practice, I&E and Social Science Research Institute), who taught the course.

Design Sprint Participants

Associate Provost Pickus, who had seen previous iterations of the students’ presentations in an audience including Provost Sally Kornbluth, said, “After just one week, it was very clear how much the students loved the design thinking process. We could see them actively testing their assumptions, wrestling with trade-offs, and proposing interventions from the ‘tough but doable’ to the deeply transformative.”

Student Teams and Proposed Solutions

Meaningful Impact: How might we change the academic and social culture of Duke to better aid personal growth and learning? With Blue Devil Ticket, a program that reinvents undergraduate application process by removing selective admissions for certain Duke programs, particularly those that don’t require experience.

Dulfin: How might we support faculty in creating responsive, student-driven learning to foster innovative curricula while respecting individuality? With RISE (Responsive and Interest-based Sophomore Experience), a guaranteed summer opportunity to help students explore their interests before declaring a major.

BrainStorm: How might we create an environment where students can develop a clear sense of self-actualization and translate their passions into meaningful paths for the future? With Design Your Tomorrow, a career exploration course that students can access as a credit course, a modular online course, weekly workshops and other co-curricular activities, and/or custom networking.

Thing 2A: How might we create meaningful and accessible opportunities for Duke students to engage positively with the Durham community while creating sustainable, trust-based partnerships? With the Arts and Culture Festival, a two-day event during O-Week that would feature Durham small businesses, volunteer organizations, performing groups, and lots of food.

Duke in Durham: How might we forge mutually beneficial and sustainable partnerships for community-based learning with our regional neighbors? With a required service learning course for first-years that’s built into Writing 101 courses, seminars, and other service learning-based courses.

Intellectual Blue Devils: How might we empower Duke students to embrace inclusivity so we can better combat racism and indifference and transform the Duke learning community? With “spicy lunch,” where students gather for Duke-subsidized lunches and talk about race-related topics.

Feedback and Discussion

Following the students’ presentations, the audience responded with comments and questions, using the Zoom chat box for real-time reactions, thoughts, and follow-up.

“As a Durham native who has left many times and returned, I am so thankful for the projects that will focus on the city and building the relationship and bonds, especially once we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Pamela Bivens, Assistant Director for Diversity and Inclusion. “People will be very eager to work together, I hope, and Duke building relationships and bonds with the community is going to make a huge difference to the future of Duke and the way the city receives, responds, and works with Duke in the future.”

“From my experience, most people miss the empathy piece, and all of you nailed it,” said Greg Victory, Executive Director of the Career Center. “Understanding the needs of those around us versus assuming you know the answer is such a powerful takeaway, and you should all be proud of how you accomplished that in such a short period of time.”

Asked about their experience, students expressed an appreciation for the intensive nature of the Design Sprint, how it enabled them to immerse themselves in areas outside their usual courses of study, and how it provided a sense of community, albeit virtual.

“I’m in the Masters of Quantitative Management program at Fuqua,” said Guinivere Amores of team Intellectual Blue Devils. “We have a very fixed schedule, so there’s not a lot of room to add classes. Having a program like this really helped me explore more interests that I had and integrate myself further with the Duke community, especially with the pandemic going on and not being able to intermingle with other communities on campus.”

What’s Next?

When Dean Steelman asked about student enthusiasm for furthering these projects, several teams responded with their intentions to continue developing their work, including team BrainStorm—who have connected to an existing project team led by Victory at the Career Center—and Thing2A. Many students mentioned having registered for the Student Founder Program this semester to have structural support in implementing their ideas.

“I think anyone who has an idea or sees a need would love to connect with people who also have an interest in fixing this or expand upon this idea,” said Noelle Garrick of team Dulfin. “Programs like this hopefully give people confidence to jump forward in the future and not be daunted.”

Dean Bellamkonda encouraged students to continue speaking up to help drive change in smaller ways as well, saying, “As students, you have a lot of power, and I’d like you to exercise it by sharing thoughts you have to make your experience better with your departments, your chairs, and others. […] Department chairs and deans are very responsive and eager to hear student feedback.”

Article originally published January 22, 2021 on the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative’s Innovation @ Duke Blog