The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a question-and-answer session with innovators from Rhode Island creating new businesses and nonprofits, doing groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at [email protected]

Every year at the start of the spring semester, every freshman at Bryant University returns to campus before regular classes begin and participates in the school’s IDEA program for Innovation and Design Experience for All. It’s an intense design bootcamp, now in its tenth year, aiming to replicate a “Silicon Valley start-up environment”.

Over the next three days, students are expected to develop skills that will prepare them for academic and postgraduate life. On the first day they do an introduction to “Design Thinking”, but for the next two days they embark on an “energetic design thinking adventure with low sleeping comfort,” says Allison Butler, psychology professor and who leads the IDEA program. They brainstorm, generate ideas and work together to find solutions to specific problems.

For its innovative approach to business education, the program was recognized for its learning-centered teaching from the Davis Educational Foundation and Hannover Research.

Q: How does the IDEA program work?

Butler: This is our 10th anniversary of this program and we have a community of approximately 8,000 Bryant graduates trained with the program which essentially teaches innovation, creativity, collaboration and design thinking (the actual methodology). You work in teams to solve innovation challenges. Each year we develop 35 to 40 different challenges, which are typically real-world challenges that we face at the time of the program.

Students can vote on the challenges they would work on from a range of topics. And it’s really a bootcamp experience that is experimental, immersive learning from brainstorming to prototyping.

Q: What are the challenges this year?

Butler: There might be a group that is going to work on the idea of ​​how we rethink work and the future of work. You would see how many employees are still working remotely, the working hours are unusual and what remote settings really look like.

Another group could work to support mental health, financial literacy, attract women to STEM academics and careers, ensure young people use social media in a safe and healthy way, and art in community (e.g. public spaces or underserved communities as engines of social change).

But there are a number of subjects that we are looking at; in the fields of health care, business, education, children’s sciences, race and inclusion, behavioral and mental health, sustainability and much more.

Q: What is “Design Thinking”?

Butler: It’s a method or a framework for creative problem-solving. It’s something that was made popular by IDEO, one of the leading design companies in the country. It’s what every leading company like Apple, Google, Nike, Disney, and Patagonia uses, and they make sure they create user experiences, products, and services that truly meet people’s needs. You don’t just innovate for innovation’s sake. But when you use the design thinking process, you take a deep, empathetic look at who the people they are designing for. It’s really human-centered design.

It unfolds in five phases: empathy, then develop some knowledge for the people relevant to the challenge, brainstorm, build prototypes and then build a 3D model and start testing your idea.

Q: Can you give an example of how this would work?

Butler: For example, if you had a question about young people’s healthy use of social media, you would need to dive deep, conduct interviews, observe how people deal with it, understand their habits, and then come up with solutions. But they only have three days and two nights.

Q: How can you start testing the idea?

Butler: We have a lot of alumni coming back who work in industries that are dealing with the challenges, giving them feedback and driving them forward so it’s not just a one-and-done mentality. After getting feedback from Alaun, they revise their product and only share what they think is the most promising at a trade show.

It’s almost like a business fair or a shark tank-style pitch. We have C-suite level executives from various industries, executives and nonprofits, and others that come into play where the students can have their final pitch.

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.