Posts

The Power of a Peer Community

University Innovation Fellows shared strategies for student-led change in higher education at the James Madison University Regional Meetup in November 2015.

JMU1

At the James Madison University Regional Meetup, University Innovation Fellows share their insights and lessons learned from creating activities, events and spaces at their schools. Photo by Laurie Moore.

by Laurie Moore
Originally posted on epicenter.stanford.edu.

Students circulated the room, their voices echoing off concrete floors and high ceilings. They wandered from one rolling whiteboard to the next, where their peers presented what they’d learned from creating activities, events and spaces at their schools. The presenters wrote insights on the whiteboards as they talked — a live poster session without paper or graphs. Instead of rotating to the next whiteboard when instructed, some students remained at the same board, taking detailed notes on the topic and asking follow-up questions. Many of the discussions extended over lunch and throughout the day.

This showcase of activities was one of many highlights of the University Innovation Fellows Regional Meetup hosted by James Madison University (JMU) on November 14-15, 2015. Titled “Own It. Do It.” and held at JMU X-Labs, the meetup provided an opportunity for Fellows to connect in person and learn from one another about how to engage their peers around innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity and design thinking.

UIF-JMU-Regional-Meetup-2015-01

The event, designed by JMU Fellows and faculty sponsors, was attended by 40 students from 13 schools in addition to JMU: Clemson University, Dalhousie University, Furman University, George Mason University, Grand Valley State University, La Salle University, Morgan State University, North Dakota State University, University of Portland, University of Virginia, Villanova University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and William Jewell College.

Speakers and activities included a welcome from JMU President Jonathan Alger; an icebreaker with Outriggers, a student-led event facilitation group; a two-part design thinking challenge led by professor Justin Henriques and UIF program co-leader and Stanford d.school lecturer Leticia Britos Cavagnaro; a talk by Marty O’Neill of Corsum Consulting; and a tour of the Harrisonburg Printers Museum from museum owner and excavator Timothy Moore, a JMU University Innovation Fellow who helped design the meetup.

James Madison University President Jonathan Alger welcomes the Fellows. Photo by Daniel Stein/djsphotovideo.com.

James Madison University President Jonathan Alger welcomes the Fellows. Photo by Daniel Stein/djsphotovideo.com.

To kick off the meetup, President Alger welcome the attendees on Saturday morning, accompanied by the Provost, Associate Provost, Dean of Engineering and other faculty leading the innovation movement on campus. Alger spoke of the importance of the Fellows’ work both at JMU and at other schools. “I was excited for JMU to host this event with student leaders from across North America because I believe that this sort of convening leads to the exchange of a wide variety of ideas and approaches,” Alger said later. “Our vision is that all students can learn how to be change agents in the university and in the world.”

Exchanging ideas was the thread that connected all of the activities during the event, as was discovering a community of like-minded individuals.

After President Alger’s introduction, participants talked with Presidential Innovation Fellows Emily Ianacone and Steven Babitch, who discussed projects that required them to work on “problems not yet defined.” One such project resulted in a platform to facilitate more dialogue between diabetes patients and their health care providers.

Presidential Innovation Fellows Emily Ianacone and Steven Babitch discuss their projects with the Fellows. Photo by Daniel Stein/djsphotovideo.com.

Presidential Innovation Fellows Emily Ianacone and Steven Babitch discuss their projects with the Fellows. Photo by Daniel Stein/djsphotovideo.com.

The connections between the University Innovation Fellows and the President Innovation Fellows seemed to go far beyond the names, with both groups working to create lasting change: one in higher education, and one in industry and the nonprofit sectors.

“The world around us is constantly evolving, and it’s important to have people who are creating change and evolution at large institutions like universities,” Emily Ianacone said.

“I think it’s hugely important for Fellows to engage in actual projects that they care about,” said Steven Babitch. “They’re working across different teams and bringing their collective experiences together. That’s how the real world works.”

As the first of many sessions designed to strengthen their relationships with one another, Fellows participated in a team design thinking exercise. With the campus bustling with activity from parents weekend, meetup participants set out on foot to interview JMU students about challenges they faced on campus or in the community. Later that afternoon, teams designed solutions and pitched their best ideas to faculty and administrators. This helped teams understand the different perspectives of all the stakeholders involved in creating change at a school.

Fellows took part in a design thinking exercise to explore challenges faced by students on campus. Photo by Laurie Moore.

Fellows took part in a design thinking exercise to explore challenges faced by students on campus. Photo by Laurie Moore.

Another session was the whiteboard presentation circuit, where students presented on activities they’d created including hack-a-thons, pop-up classes and makerspaces. Fellows noted the value of these opportunities to learn from one another and build strong relationships with other students who are just as passionate and motivated as themselves.

“I just learned how to host my own TEDx event in literally 15 minutes from one of the other Fellows,” said Iyanna Patterson, a Fellow from Morgan State University. “Everyone here is so welcoming and so quick to share information. We’re hearing success stories and learning from every single person.”

“It’s important for us to share the knowledge of what we’re all doing,” said Collier Apgar, a student at JMU. “Then you know you’re not the only one trying to create change.”

These personal connections lasted throughout the day as the participants explored three businesses that are redefining downtown Harrisonburg: the BlueHub coworking space, jewelry entrepreneur Hugo Kohl, and Pale Fire Brewing Company. Students who hadn’t known one another 48 hours earlier were discussing projects and how to implement what they’d learned at JMU back at their own schools.

“Every time students get together in groups, dynamic things start happening,” said Nick Swayne, Executive Director of the 4-Virginia program and coordinator for the program at James Madison University. “Whether it was in the whiteboard clusters or other parts of the meetup, they were really talking—not just about flowery stuff, but how they’ll go back to their schools and make something big happen.”

The community that the Fellows created at the meetup is one that will last despite the distance between them. “Being in a peer community like this is continuing to be of more and more value to me,” said Bradley Dice, a Fellow at William Jewell College. “We really care about one another’s ecosystems and about transforming the whole of higher education and not just our own schools.”

The Art of Making

by Katie Dzugan

UPittSign

It was a cloudy, rainy day during finals week in April 2015 when we arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to visit 6 Fellows at the University of Pittsburgh (UPitt). UPitt is a sprawling, urban campus with beautiful stone buildings that spans 132 acres of city blocks. Campus was abuzz with students walking from building to building and occupying all the study spaces.

We met Fellows Nate Smialek, Brian Rhindress, Ian McIntyre, Madhur Malhotra, Jenny Sommer and David Jacob at the Innovation Institute, along with supporter Babs Carryer, Director of Education and Outreach. The Innovation Institute was recently launched through the Office of the Provost in 2013 to bring together major areas of innovation on campus: the Office of Technology Management, Office of Enterprise Development and the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence. This recent structure was put in place to build a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at UPitt, which fits with the mission of the Fellows and their faculty sponsor, Mary Besterfield-Sacre, and provides a neutral zone across campus to foster a hotbed of activity in regards to innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E).

UPittInnovationInstitute

In the main conference room, outfitted with whiteboards and smart TVs, we were able to learn about the recent projects the Fellows had undertaken. The first project was the Pitt Design Hub. The Design Hub is a student organization originally named Engineers for Sustainable Medical Devices (ESMD) that was created by Fellow (now UPitt alumna) Karuna Relwani. ESMD’s mission was to provide biomedical engineering students with hands-on experience working with physicians to design medical devices that physicians would actually use, from surgical mounts to brain stimulation. As the student organization grew, and more Fellows joined the crew at UPitt during the last year, ESMD has rebranded and grown into the Design Hub. The Design Hub has the same mission to still connect students to real-world projects and local physicians, but the student organization wanted to be more inclusive of other majors outside of biomedical engineering to reach all engineers and other majors, such as business.

Karuna Relwani presents at Open 2014

The second project we learned about was the freshman-level course the Fellows were involved with, “The Art of Making: Hands-on System Design and Engineering.”

“In this class, our goal was to teach concepts like ideation, rapid prototyping and design thinking along with promoting the maker culture,” said Madhur Malhotra, University Innovation Fellow. “Throughout the class, we introduced technologies like Arduino, LittleBits, Solidworks and so on. The final project involved combining such technologies and developing a cool and useful solution with them.”

During the semester, the students participating in the class turned the classroom into a mini makerspace with hardware, tool kits, low-resolution prototyping materials and more. Building this space and experiencing the class allowed the freshmen to be actively involved with learning the curriculum. In the final 3 weeks of the class, the students focused on a specific project of their choosing. These projects stemmed from interactive periodic tables to a pineapple that controlled the playing of a violin. The student projects were showcased on the outer wall of the classroom in the hallway by a projector displaying rotating images.

ArtofMaking

After catching up, we were able to get a tour of the engineering building, which is where the freshman class “Art of Making” is held (see photos of the classroom above), and where meetings for the Design Hub occur. We saw everything the students did and didn’t have access too, ranging from study spaces to classrooms and hallways to music studios. Interestingly, the hallways were a massive space for students to sprawl out and collaborate on projects or just to work and study, being at least 15 feet wide with whiteboard walls. Our visit was jam-packed with information and tours of campus and we were extremely excited that the Fellows made time for us during the busiest time of the semester.

After experiencing different adventures over the summer, the Fellows came back together to continue innovating the Pitt campus this fall. Updates since the summer include (provided by Madhur Malhotra):

  • Adding a unit to the “Art of Making” course focused on media and how to communicate a design/product effectively through visual media.
  • The Fall 2015 course was developed for upperclassman to spread the maker culture across other classes within UPitt’s engineering department.
  • 7 final projects from the “Art of Making” were presented at the bi-annual Design Expo.
There’s a lot of action through the Fellows at the University of Pittsburgh and we’re excited to see what the new year will bring. Keep up the great work!

P.S. This post was written during the UIF Roadtrip 2015

Orientation Forward: Beginning the Jewell Journey with Creativity and Innovation

“Here, we dream in verbs.” Bradley Dice, a University Innovation Fellow from William Jewell College, shares his perspective on an event his team held for the incoming class of students as part of Epicenter’s #uifresh initiative.

Sentences written by William Jewell's Class of 2019 in the "I Will" exercise.

Sentences written by William Jewell’s Class of 2019 in the “I Will” exercise.

by Bradley Dice
University Innovation Fellow, William Jewell College
This article was originally posted on medium.com.

On Tuesday, August 25, University Innovation Fellows from William Jewell College hosted an Orientation workshop for the incoming class of students. This workshop is William Jewell’s first major event for #uifresh (University Innovation Freshmen), a nationwide initiative announced in March as a part of the White House Science Fair. The #uifresh initiative calls upon institutions of higher education to expose first-year students to design thinking, entrepreneurship, and innovation in order to attract and retain more students in STEM-related disciplines.

University Innovation Fellows candidates Trevor Nicks, Benjamin Shinogle, and Macy Tush introduced students to Design Thinking with methods from Stanford's renowned d.school.

University Innovation Fellows candidates Trevor Nicks, Benjamin Shinogle, and Macy Tush introduced students to Design Thinking with methods from Stanford’s renowned d.school.

As first-year students enter college, they are embarking on their own Jewell Journey. This “Journey” concept is a holistic view of a William Jewell education: cultivating critical thought, encouraging academic inquiry by engaging big ideas and conducting scholarly research, offering service and leadership as citizens within a local and a global context, and engaging the challenges of our world (philosophical, political, economic, social, scientific, and more) to make and implement meaning for ourselves and others.

Across these four adventurous years of college, it’s easy to adopt a “checklist” mentality. Each day of class is one step closer to the real world. Instead, what if we brought the real world into our education? What if we catalyzed a culture of self-starters, fearless and uninhibited innovators who view their education in more than a classroom setting and as more than a degree? How do we equip first-year students with the skills they need to make their dreams into reality? We asked them to share their vision for their Jewell Journey.

University Innovation Fellow Bradley Dice worked alongside faculty Ian Coleman, Blane Baker, and Shelly McVay to discuss the importance of mentorship and dreaming big from Day One.

University Innovation Fellow Bradley Dice worked alongside faculty Ian Coleman, Blane Baker, and Shelly McVay to discuss the importance of mentorship and dreaming big from Day One.

The “I Will” activity helped students put words to their ambitious visions. They crafted statements of their goals that will cascade and resonate through the layers of planning, purpose-finding, discovery, and self-exploration that occur across four years at William Jewell. Students began mapping their dreams to concrete resources like Journey Grants, academic clubs and social groups on campus, connections in Kansas City, and more. Discovering these doors of opportunity can be intensely challenging for a new student, so our rockstar faculty and University Innovation Fellows team provided insight on how to get connected, find mentors, and begin this Journey with the knowledge that their peers and professors are by their side every step of the way.

As University Innovation Fellows at William Jewell, we have begun to explore the intersection of liberal arts education with innovation, entrepreneurship, and design thinking. We are developing “maker” mindsets in socially-aware citizens, layering human-centered design on top of world-ready problem solvers, and catalyzing both deep expertise and broad experiences for our students at William Jewell. To learn more about our efforts, just reach out.

 

BradleyDice_Headshot

About the author: 

University Innovation Fellow Bradley Dice is a scientist, software developer, and advocate of open data. Currently a senior at William Jewell College in Kansas City, he is triple-majoring in Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics, and holds a strong passion for improving scientific methodology and business analytics through technology.

 

Do-Think-Make: Engage in Design Thinking & Creativity at Texas Tech

The Texas Tech University Innovation Fellows, composed of Marshall Head, Victoria Young, Valente Rodriguez, Taylor Persons, Francis Atore and Benjamin Simmons, were able to host an innovative thinking event on their university campus called Do-Think-Make. This event was similar to the activities at the recent University Innovation Fellows 2015 Annual Meetup.

The goal of the Do-Think-Make event was to:

  1. Encourage cross-pollination of ideas and information between students of different backgrounds
  2. Help students overcome the challenges brought about by being in unfamiliar situations and environments
  3. Show a fun and exciting way design thinking could be presented

Event participants composed of 40 students from the Honors College, engineering, wind sciences and South Plains College. The Do-Think-Make event was sponsored by the Edward E. Whitacre College of Engineering, National Wind Institute, Honors College, Group NIRE and South Plains College.

Held on April 18th from 10 am to 2 pm, the Do-Think-Make event began with a rock paper scissors warm-up, whereby the loser became a fan of the winning team until only two teams are left at the end. The students also took part in a table activity where they were asked to come up with eight ways to improve the innovative ecosystem on their campus. They then chose an idea they liked best and expanded on the idea. The table then voted on one another’s idea and the table clustered as a team around the idea with the most votes. The final idea was then graphically prototyped and pitched by the table to the rest of the groups. It was observed that innovative spaces were a popular theme, with 60% of the groups choosing it as their project of choice.

The students were then engaged in a creative sound exercise where they imitated and created new sounds with their peers, namely sound ball. Sound ball had the highest reviews, due to the fact that it initiated the most laughs and challenges. STEM majors do not often practice sound creation and imitation, and may be one reason it was the most challenging; however, it was also named as the “most fun” portion of the overall event.

At the end, as the students were taking part in a maker space design challenge, that constituted a physical prototype, we were joined by a member of the community who is currently in the process of building a community maker space. This member of the community was able to witness the raw energy of the students as they conveyed their needs and interests. The community maker space, namely Ubiquitous Labs, is envisioned to promote local entrepreneurs and complement design education in the local schools. The event then ended with a wind turbine challenge where students were given 45 minutes to design a wind turbine for a building.

The amount of ideas and prototypes generated within the 5 hour period was immense, but even more important were the bonds that were generated and ideas that were exchanged. It is currently a great time for the Lubbock community, as new technologies and practices emerge. Companies such as Wayne Brown Institute are collaborating with emerging startups to help them understand their venture readiness, while organizations such as Lubbock Economic Development Alliance (LEDA) are providing resources and incentives to retain innovative businesses. As departmental and community stakeholders continue to merge their strengths, the region will continue to grow, resulting in a lasting positive impact.

Penned by the South Plains College & Texas Tech University Innovation Fellows

/pen/ verb. past tense: penned
write or compose.

Hypothesis Affirmed! Greenville, SC Ignited By Southeastern Regional Meetup

Last week, we tested and affirmed a theory. Our hypothesis was that we could bring together a group of Fellows with other college students interested in creativity, innovation and design thinking and replicate the energy of our Annual Meetup at Google and Stanford at a place far from Silicon Valley. We chose Greenville, South Carolina. Why? Because of our star University Innovation Fellows who happen to be in that region… Ben Riddle of Furman University and Bre Przestrzelski of Clemson University, and their amazingly supportive faculty sponsors Ross McClain (Department Chair, Art, Furman) and John Desjardin (Faculty, Bioengineering, Clemson).

https://www.flickr.com/photos/epicenterusa/sets/72157648089466547/player/

Ben and Bre’s work analyzing the Furman and Clemson Innovation & Entrepreneurship ecosystem informed their strategic plans to enhance that ecosystem (Furman Student Priorities, Clemson Student Priorities). They completed this work last year, over a 6-week WebEx-based program to become University Innovation Fellows and, as part of their training, flew to Google Headquarters and Stanford’s world-renowned d.school (the Hasso Plattner Design Institute). Over three days, 88 Fellows from all over the nation soaked up the innovation culture in Silicon Valley and discussed ways to lead a movement in student innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship on their campuses (March 2014 agenda, and photos). The Annual Meetup was transformative; both Ben and Bre saw the opportunity to replicate the magic and attract peers on campus.

Again, why Greenville? Program leaders, over the year that followed, discovered just how cool of a community Greenville, SC is, as both Fellows reported back the success and overwhelming support they received from institutional and community leaders. Greenville has a strong history of public-private partnership dating back to the entrepreneurial Mayor Max, under whose leadership the city attracted a major Hotel Chain and narrowed a four-lane thoroughfare into the charming downtown Main Street filled with great restaurants, culture, art and more. So, when the pair invited Epicenter and its founders, Stanford University and VentureWell, to co-facilitate design thinking and lean startup sessions with local experts, program leaders enthusiastically agreed. Thus was born the plan for the…

Southeastern Regional Meetup, Hosted by Clemson University and Furman University

SEregionalsmallEpicenter organizers, University Innovation Fellow program leaders and Fellows flew in from California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, New York and the Virgin Islands. Fellows drove from North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and even as far away as Michigan and Massachusetts! They were joined by 20 Furman and 20 Clemson students. All had one thing in common: a desire to learn the techniques of design thinking and lean startup, two approaches used to develop strong human-centered ideas and develop scalable business models around them. Using real-world issues from the Greenville community, students applied new-found techniques in observation, empathy, brainstorming, prototyping, customer segmentation & value proposition development.

Students developed low-resolution prototypes and articulated real opportunities to improve Greenville – a more friendly main street and redesigning the eating experience. Students learned by doing and they discovered that their entrepreneurial mindset could be honed on real-world challenges in their local community. On the flip side, community members saw students as motivated and capable individuals who bring a fresh-perspective and an open mind to arrive at highly innovative and achievable solutions to their challenges. One student openly remarked during the debrief, “I learned more this weekend than in the entire semester,” a sentiment often heard by many who first encounter hands-on and experiential learning opportunities. The mood at the reception with community and academic leaders was one you’d see at a sporting event, as evident by the Bear Ninja Cowboy video posted below. This kind of enthusiasm for learning can transform our nation’s higher education institutions. We look forward to replicating this success in Washington D.C. and at UMD on November 1st and 2nd, ringing in National Entrepreneurship Month with an invitation only Meetup for 100 University Innovation Fellows. More on that soon!

~ Humera Fasihuddin, Leader, University Innovation Fellows (on behalf of Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, Katie Dzugan & Laurie Moore)

A Big THANK YOU to our Collaborators and Supporters

We are extremely grateful to the many local community members, without whom, this past weekend would not have been possible:

Design Thinkers Group USA, especially Joel, Marc and Susan, for their tremendous efforts in co-designing and co-facilitating a two-day experiential learning experience with our colleague Leticia Britos Cavagnaro from Stanford.

John Desjarin, Clemson, for his awesome giant room-sized Business Model Canvas exercise, imparting Lean Startup skills to participants in an experiential way (and his moral support).

Ross Mclain, Furman, for forging an unprecedented partnership between a liberal arts institution and a major research university (and his moral support).

OpenWorks, for being so accommodating and allowing us to use their open work space for our activities on Friday (see agenda below).

Greenville Health System, especially to Robin, for joining us to discuss what you should never do in an interview — and making it funny.

Clemson MBA at ONE, for giving us access to their swanky new space on Main Street.

Also a special shout out to Envision SC, the Spiro Institute, Ten at the Top, SCBio and all of our additional facilitators and guests of honor.

Fellows Southeastern Regional Meetup Collaborators and Sponsors

Fellows Southeastern Regional Meetup Collaborators and Sponsors

Fellows Southeastern Regional Meetup Agenda

Fellows Southeastern Regional Meetup Agenda

Innovation and Determination

University Innovation Fellow Atin Mittra led a service learning trip to the Dominican Republic’s Barrio Blanco and learned a lesson about determination in the process.

by Atin Mittra
University Innovation Fellow, University of Maryland College Park

Atin Mittra (left) with members of his design team during their spring trip to Barrio Blanco in the Dominican Republic.

As I embarked to lead an Alternative Spring Break trip to the Dominican Republic, I had no idea the next week would be a life changing experience.

The community we worked in was called Barrio Blanco, named after the man who started the community, Blanco. Blanco is around sixty years old, but his passion for maintaining the barrio makes him move like he’s twenty-five. A small neighborhood hidden away in the bustling tourist attraction of Cabarete, Barrio Blanco represents the determination of community organizers to withstand gentrification. The wealth and abundance that kissed the beachside resorts didn’t make it to the barrio. In fact, half a mile from the five star restaurants, people were walking on unpaved streets covered in trash.

The three service projects our group focused on were teaching children at the DREAM school, painting a mural on the entrance of the neighborhood, and making mobile garbage cans. The mobile trash can project was primed for the design thinking process.

The Problem: The entrance to the community was a quarter mile long with two cinderblock walls on either side. The opening was only wide enough for one large truck. The side streets were far too narrow for the truck to make its way around so the residents could either carry their garbage to the truck or throw it out in front of their house. By and large people chose the latter. As a result, trash lay undisturbed, free to enjoy the Dominican sun. Unfortunately, trash leaked into the nearby lagoon behind the houses, contaminating the water and causing health concerns for the residents. Upon learning about design thinking from the Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UMD, my co-trip leader and I quickly introduced the methodology into our facilitation identifying potential benefits of using it in a social context. I had hoped to give my twelve participants tools such as design thinking that would allow them to more easily tackle large-scale problems after the trip, a process known as activation.

The Task: Design and build eight mobile trash cans which can be pulled on unpaved, uneven streets and be light enough for children to pull.

Image

Young-Ju and Atin measuring wheel placements

The Process: First, we observed. I jotted some preliminary ideas for the frame and wheel placement after our work was finished each day. I pulled two participants who displayed interest in the design process to help, Taylor and Young-Ju. It was imperative for both of them to share their opinion during the prototype and test phase. At first, both were hesitant to give their input. After relentlessly insisting they share their ideas, Young-Ju exclaimed, “I don’t know, I’m not an engineer like you, you know what you’re doing.” I was both shocked and relieved. Shocked because it felt like I was finally breaking through timid Young-Ju’s shell and relieved because this was something that I could tell was on both of their minds. “What does engineering have anything to do with this, we just need to solve a problem,” I explained turning the focus on the task at hand.

From that point on, they both opened up throughout the design process.

Image

Team members attach a frame to a trash can

After numerous trips to the hardware store and shipping parts in fromPuerto Rico, we were finally ready to build all eight trash cans on our last day of service. It started at noon. To start building we created a six-person team. The inconsistent electricity made it difficult to make progress and it seemed like everything was standing between us and our goal. Through sheer determination we pushed forward. As people in the community saw us working, they began coming out of their houses to offer help. A group of men who ran a hardware business nearby stopped working in order to make sure we were adequately equipped to finish the project. Timid Young-Ju who had once held her tongue when asked her opinion now had no problem barking orders at other participants to ensure they were building the frames correctly. Wiping sweat away from my sleep deprived eyes, for a minute I observed at what was happening around me. There were at least a dozen people helping in some capacity now in an assembly line type fashion. My original design team acted as quality assurance. We even brought in someone else from the community to weld handles onto the sides of the can.

The schedule said to end work at 4:30 and head to a nice dinner on the beach, but we couldn’t leave until the job was finished. We finished the last can at 7:00pm as the sun forfeited its position above. Even though we were all battling heat exhaustion, sickness, and sleep deprivation, all ailments were buried the moment we finished. Accomplishment and satisfaction coagulated with the cool Dominican air. It felt like we just won the Super Bowl, everyone was in visible ecstasy. The community leaders invited us back the next day to give a proper thank you/goodbye.

Image

Seven of the completed trash cans

The next evening we entered the barrio making the long walk to the school one last time. As soon as we began walking down the entrance, we heard the pitter patter of running children and in the distance tiny voices yelling “they’re here! they’re here!” in Spanish followed quickly by the muffled thuds of them running into and embracing us with their small arms. They guided us to the school where leaders of the community and kids alike prepared speeches for us. They praised us for the work we did but most of all for caring about the barrio. Everywhere I turned all I heard was “nunca te olvidare” (I will never forget you). I was blown away that people we had no idea existed just five days prior were now telling us we changed their lives. I couldn’t describe the way it felt when I heard the work I did impacted someone’s life. It was the greatest high I’ve ever felt. I ducked out of the party early to look at the trash cans one last time before we left.

As I headed back to our work site, I saw Blanco sitting there alone as if he knew I was coming. I looked up from Blanco’s silhouette to see all the garbage cans were gone. “Where are the garbage cans, Blanco?” I asked. In a calm voice he told me if I wanted to see them again, I’d have to walk around the whole community because they had already been put to use. I was speechless. Not even twenty-four hours after we finished the project, they were already serving their purpose. It was incredible to think through engineering and design thinking we were able to build something that would help this group of people we grew to love.

Image

The final assembly team poses after finishing all eight trash cans

At times engineering can be nebulous and my mind would lay burdened by theory and formulas in class, but I wouldn’t have been able to help the residents of Barrio Blanco if not for those classes. It was amazing to be able to apply things from class to the real world and make a difference. It was also rewarding to be able to demystify engineering and design to non-STEM majorswho found instant utility from its principles. I will never forget how happy the residents of Barrio Blanco were. Our closeness to the community greatly aided the human centered piece of our design process. Not only did we want what we built to be used, but we cared so deeply about our friends in the barrio, that nothing but the best was acceptable. If you’re passionate enough about a project and you remain resolutely determined on achieving the goal, nothing can stop you.

Atin Mittra Atin Mittra is a student at the University of Maryland, College Park majoring in Aerospace Engineering with a minor in Technology Entrepreneurship, graduating in 2014. he is passionate about social entrepreneurship and understanding social trends. Atin is also the Founder and Executive Director of MADE Microfinance, a non-profit that aims to build financial literacy and assets for people who are rejected by the traditional banking industry.

UIF News: Twitter Chat

ANNOUNCEMENT:

Big Beacon has invited Epicenter back for a Twitter Chat! The topic will be design thinking in engineering. If you would like to join in, use #BigBeacon during the designated time and you will be able to follow the live conversation. Join the conversation by answering questions and chatting with other participants. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014
5 p.m. Pacific / 8 p.m. Eastern

Here is a link to Epicenter’s previous Twitter chat with Big Beacon.