Iterative Mindset

Finding happiness in a constantly changing job market

by Mae White
University Innovation Fellow
, IE University

This article was published in Change Forward, an annual publication from our program that features work by Fellows and their Faculty Champions.

A year ago, I came to my mom half in tears feeling defeated. I complained to her that as I prepared to graduate, I didn’t even know if I liked visual design enough to keep doing it as a job. I believed happiness could only be achieved when I reached a certain professional level, and I wasn’t going to get there if I didn’t land the perfect job. In hindsight, my hopeless outlook stopped me from jumping on opportunities that were not an exact match for my career, but were available at least. It made me wonder if this attitude was preventable. Was there a way to feel more capable of tackling problems by changing our expectations? 

This brings us to the essence of design thinking. There are various phases of iteration, trial and error, and starting over, that I’ve ignored when it comes to my career. In order to better utilize design methodology in our lives, we must view our own careers as a problem solving process. By embracing this iterative nature, we can shift our mindset to one that is not only resilient to, but expects constant change.

The double diamond method is a tactic to create a solution by gathering information from stakeholders, users, and their environment to arrive at an outcome best suited for them. The original idea hardly stays the same after going through this process. This can be applied to our career journeys as well.

The discovery phase is all about finding out which problems we care to solve. At this stage, we need to decide which values we want to let dictate our lives; is it money? Is it a passion? Can we fuse the two? What does society need right now that I can provide? We may find the focus shift away from ourselves and instead the problems we find most urgent. As we learn more about the world around us, the “how might we” questions start popping up. Can we join companies that are asking the same questions?

The second step is narrowing down these experiences to a niche that works best for you, and is provided by a greater need from the community. Though it’s no easy feat, define which mission you want to dedicate ample time to (it doesn’t have to be just one! It may also change later). Finding the answer to this question can give us more confidence to start the “prototyping” phase.

Rapid prototyping is where we try new jobs/projects constantly and when they don’t work out, we should ask ourselves “Why?”. What did our superiors tell us? What mistakes can we avoid making in the future? Maybe there are new things we didn’t know we wanted to pursue further! In dead end situations, pivoting is definitely an option.

Finally, when we find that our efforts are slowly making a dent in the problems we try to solve, it means we’ve arrived at our solution. This doesn’t mean to stop! Maybe we start something new, or inspire others who want to create the same changes you have to work alongside you.

The main takeaway is that we will feel defeated if we create a plan or idea of how our careers ought to be. Design thinking is all about being flexible and willing to pivot when an opportunity presents itself or our environment changes. Happiness can be attained throughout our design process; it’s not waiting for us at the end. Deciding to have an optimistic outlook on our circumstances, knowing that the road ahead will not be a smooth one, can make all the difference in motivating ourselves to move on to the next step. So, where will your design journey take you?

Influencing Students to Become Advocates on Campus

Why we held a paid changemaking workshop to empower student leaders

by Ryan Chapman, Joey Gruber, Marissa Morales and Lavanya Uppala
University Innovation Fellows
, University of Nebraska at Omaha

This article was published in Change Forward, an annual publication from our program that features work by Fellows and their Faculty Champions.

While students learn the skills to implement lasting change in their communities through their college education, they are often not provided the context, time, or incentive to do so. However, numerous examples, identified both through our own research and through UIF training, have shown that when students are presented with these opportunities without barriers, immense positive change is often enacted. 

To facilitate these avenues of innovation and entrepreneurship, we hosted a paid changemaking workshop. The results of the workshop showed that when provided the tools and motivation to do so, student civic engagement and empathetic problem solving of community issues increases.

More specifically, during the course of our UIF training, we found that many problems facing students at our home institution, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), were rooted in the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on education. We conducted several student interviews regarding these issues. Through the surveys, students reported feeling isolated from other students and felt unheard by both professors and university administration. Additionally, students did not feel as though they had sufficient financial support to participate in changemaking efforts while supporting their university tuition, and therefore felt that they were blocked from participating in these innovation efforts.

Based on these feelings, and as both a resource for interested students and an experiment to show UNO administration, we developed a 3-day changemaking workshop that aimed to teach students the proponents of leading change, apply design methodologies for developing solutions to change, and compensate students for learning, leading, and improving our university. We wanted to create a workshop that would inspire and empower students to create change for issues they see on UNO’s campus and connect them with faculty to initiate collaboration. We also wanted to pay the students, so that students with financial adversities had the opportunity to participate

We began our planning of the workshop by working with Vice Chancellor Dan Shipp and Assistant Vice Chancellor Kristina Cammarano, and Director of Student Development Harnoor Singh. It took our group about 3 months to locate funding to pay students $9 an hour, create an agenda, design the curriculum, invite students, and execute the overall event.

Participation in our workshop was open to all enrolled UNO undergraduate and graduate students. Our workshop was advertised via social media and via email communication through various university organizations.

Our workshop was held via Zoom over the course of three days. Each day consisted of a two-hour long session split into two hour-long halves. The first hour of the session was an informational section to teach participants the proponents of that day’s activities. Each day also included student speakers who had been involved in student-led change at UNO. The second half of each session was devoted to working in groups to focus on each day’s task. 

When developing the workshop, we defined our metrics of success as the number of projects that students developed solutions for, the number of students who joined our new organization, Mavs for Change, after the workshop, and the number of faculty who attended the workshop.

We believe that our workshop was successful based on our defined metrics. Our workshop included five student speakers, six faculty, staff, and administrators, and 27 general participants. We had originally only budgeted for 20 students, but based on the level of interest, we expanded. During the workshop students identified three areas that needed reform: Campus Safety/Security, Accessibility, and Mental Health. Students in our workshop developed five solutions to problems that they have seen at UNO. These included issues in the areas of Accessibility, Mental Health, and Campus Security. 

By the conclusion of the workshop, all five groups had proposals for carrying out their work in the future. Since our workshop, students have taken several steps to implement change at UNO. One of the groups focused on accessibility of the UNO website has presented to the Chancellor’s Wellness Committee and is working with administrators to implement their proposed revisions. Another group from this workshop pursued increasing accessibility to CAPS, through working with administrator Cathy Pettid following the workshop. 

In total, we had seven participants of our workshop join our organization, Mavericks for Change, which we created at the same time as our workshop. This organization serves to create an environment where students feel comfortable and welcome to bring forward issues they are passionate about and to foster collaboration between a diverse group of students (follow us at @mavsforchange on Facebook and Instagram). 

To obtain additional metrics on the impact of our workshop, we created a post-survey gaging student’s experience at the workshop and what they learned. From this survey, we found that students’ interest in changemaking at UNO increased, and students reported wanting to continue work on projects. Furthermore, students were able to retain the method of changemaking used in the workshop evident through their descriptions of what they had learned.

Based on the results that we observed and the response that we received from students, we believe that our workshop was a success. The substantial turnout demonstrated that a large population of students at our university were interested in leading movements and developing new ideas to solve problems. We attribute the sizable attendance, in part, to the funding that we offered to students. Offering payment appeared to make the workshop more accessible to students, and we hope to use this idea to help create new funded positions for students to be involved in solving university problems. Along with this, the transition of some of the participants to Mavericks for Change provided a sign that workshop participants are interested in continuing their work.

For us as fellows, the workshop was an excellent opportunity for us to convey the skills that we learned through UIF training to a broader audience. The presentation and visual materials that we created are things that we plan to use in the future for additional workshops or other teaching moments. Seeing how much of an impact our workshop has had makes us excited to continue our work and to incorporate these new ideas and individuals into Mavericks for Change.

A Faculty-Led Movement Inspired by Students

How a small community of UIF mentors are disrupting higher education

by Ilya Avdeev, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Mary Raber, Chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals, Michigan Technological University
Miriam Iliohan, Co-founder and Manager of DesignLab, University of Twente
Nick Swayne, Founding Director of JMU X-Labs, James Madison University
Faculty Innovation Fellows program community leaders

Making a difference in higher education is much more fun than one might think. It is about giving and receiving empathy from your community, students and colleagues. It is about showing that you can work together and make bold moves if we trust one another to find the connections.

Our work with students has emboldened us to think about creating our own movement. We all experienced the enthusiasm of our University Innovation Fellows who brought this experience back to our campuses and immediately leapt into action to bring about positive change. This led us to wonder: 

“How might we bring this same sense of empowerment and engagement to our faculty and staff?” 

“What if faculty and staff were introduced to the same tool sets and mindsets of innovative change?” 

“What if faculty and staff were also part of a community of practice where wild ideas are encouraged, experimentation is the norm, and sharing of diverse perspectives is valued?”

Building forward from the successful student-focused UIF program to create a similar program for faculty and staff provided the opportunity for us to explore these and other questions. At our schools, this approach has taken hold and is helping to transform our culture into one that emphasizes collaboration across disciplinary boundaries, the mindsets and tools of design, and innovating to transform the educational experience.

Back when we were new Faculty Champions, during one of our first UIF Silicon Valley Meetups, leaders from Google’s Project Aristotle presented their work on building team effectiveness and system change at Google. We were asked to consider: what is the core element of strong teams and effective system change? The answer was psychological safety.

As long-time Faculty Champions, supporting the UIF experience as it unfolded for our students, we felt the distinct lack of such physiological safety amongst faculty and staff at our schools.  Faculty would certainly have a role in being the institutional memory for our UIF projects, but we didn’t have the same support structures we were providing for students.  

The five of us (the authors plus Katherine Christopher of Grand Valley State University) began meeting regularly, sharing ideas about what was working, how to support each other and how to help faculty at other institutions. Over time, this team solidified into what we called the Fab5. The Fab5 provided a virtual place to recharge and talk, share new ideas, a means of testing concepts and prototypes, but most importantly, it provided the psychological sounding board we needed to build our own movement. 

As a group, we felt a growing pull to support new faculty as they started innovation movements on their campuses. For many faculty, this is a lonely journey. We thought, what if we connect these “nomads” and fuel their passions for change by the energy of the UIF student movement? We tried several technical solutions, added events to in-person meetups, and tested several prototypes of online programs.

It wasn’t until a UIF Meetup in Salzburg in 2019 that the idea to create a program for faculty solidified. There, at one point during the week, a group of Faculty Champions sat in a castle on a mountain top, sharing a personal moment of why we joined this movement. Each story being unique of its kind, we took the time to listen. Time to really listen and reflect on what the other Faculty Champion was telling about their journey of becoming an empowerer of change. The community feeling of empathy grew throughout the day, with hugging, inspiration walks along the river or city excursions just to talk a bit further about what makes us tick.

As a result, we worked with UIF co-director Humera Fasihuddin to launch the Faculty Innovation Fellows Program. Knowing there are others “out there,” having a judgment-free place to share, getting support and encouragement from respected team members has been transformative in so many ways.

The Faculty Innovation Fellows Program is now a two-year experience for Fellows’ Faculty Champions that helps them expand the innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) movement at their schools. Much like the student Fellows program, the Faculty Innovation Fellows candidates design ways to improve their institutions. They connect with a community of like-minded educators from around the world to advance projects, gather feedback, and share what they learn.

There are currently 18 candidates in the cohort. We are a year into the program, and the more we learn, the more we want to explore.

Whose job is to reinvent higher ed? Administration? Students? Faculty? These are uncharted waters for most Faculty Innovation Fellows candidates. Where does what we do here fit? Research, teaching, service? Something else? We are collectively trying to figure this out. We are not expected to spend our time reimagining higher ed by our administration, by our executive committees or even by our peers. And yet, we do. Because we can. Because we have to. 

Faculty Champions from around the world share similar questions: How do I demonstrate to my Dean that UIF can be scaled? How do I incentivize other faculty to join me? How do we make sure that our students take credit for their work (both academically and non-academically)? How do we make others understand our work?

This prototype has already proven that a community of practice is stronger and more creative than the sum of its parts. We can now point to a “portfolio” of pilot projects yielding real gains for students, faculty and campuses around the globe. More importantly, we have created a small (as of now) community of practice.

At our schools, we sometimes look for that explosion of energy that we give on a daily basis, with a warm cup of coffee, to students and staff to empower in their work, and to go beyond. To not see the barriers that the institution can give, but which insights we can give the institution to make change. 

Two years ago, a team of faculty set out to pull together like-minded people in an effort to innovate higher education. Completing their first year of work, the team has realized significant progress. We’re just getting started, but the movement has momentum and the combined energy of the founding faculty. Change in higher ed seems impossible, but it doesn’t have to be, and the Faculty Innovation Fellows are leading the way.

This article was featured in the UIF journal Change Forward 2020-2021. Read the journal here.