For the past several years, the UW-Madison School of Human Ecology (SoHE) has been campus’ active driver of design thinking, a problem-solving and idea generating process used by organizations and corporations worldwide to solve complex problems. SoHE’s Design Thinking Initiative has delivered the process to UW-Madison through coursework, collaborations, and, now, the university’s first group of student University Innovation Fellows.
SoHE’s Tayler Nowak (graduate student in Consumer Behavior and Family Economics), Camille Clark, Rachel Acebedo, and Hanna Barton were among 224 students from 58 higher education institutions who successfully earned the Fellows title after completing an intense application process and six-week training program. Together they are the campus’ first Leadership Circle for Innovation (pictured above with SoHE’s Dean Shim and Associate Professor Shin).
From Stanford to UW-Madison
The University Innovation Fellows is a program of Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design and was developed to empower students to become agents of change at their schools, including training on how to encourage entrepreneurial mindsets, build creative confidence, seize opportunities, define problems, and address global challenges. Throughout the year, Fellows nationwide take part in events and conferences and have opportunities to learn from one another, mentors, and leaders in academia and industry.
“We outlined three strategic priorities during our six-weeks of training,” states Nowak about the UW team’s quick work to date. “We’ll be creating valuable mentorship opportunities, promoting cross-disciplinary networks among students, faculty, and staff, and providing students with the opportunity to see how and why innovation and entrepreneurship are important in their fields.” She also shared that the UW Leadership Circle for Innovation is working on partnerships to get all students access to a makerspace, connecting with student organizations, and looking to host
small-scale, pop-up ideation events.
The SoHE connection
Because of the program’s focus on design thinking strategies, it made sense for the UW-Madison team to be sponsored by SoHE faculty; Assistant Professor Jennifer Gaddis, Department of Civil Society and Community Studies, and Associate Professor Jung-Hye Shin, Department of Design Studies. Both Gaddis and Shin will continue to guide UW’s student Fellows as they work to ensure that their peers gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to compete in the economy of the future and make a positive impact on the world, including establishing student innovation spaces, founding entrepreneurship organizations, hosting experiential events, and working with faculty and administrators to develop courses.
“Our grad student and Fellow, Tayler Nowak, is already using her new knowledge by co-leading one of our summer classes on design thinking,” explains SoHE Dean, Soyeon Shim. “This is a great opportunity for her as well as a wonderful way for SoHE to continue to leverage and expand our expertise in design thinking.”
Over the past several years, SoHE has been the campus driver for design thinking and, as the name reflects, uses an “ecological lens” to solve problems. The school has infused concepts of empathy and rapid testing into several courses and projects, including cross-campus partnerships with mechanical engineering, The Wisconsin Union, and the Office of the Registrar.
The design thinking structure is important to me because of its central focus on the human experience. It is all about the importance of iteration, always learning and improving, and understanding that progress rarely takes a linear course. I love that design thinking can be applied to almost any problem, a tool for development, and that it transforms our interpretation of what design means.—Tayler Nowak
The University Innovation Fellows is a program of Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, which has trained over 1,000 students residing at 185 different universities across the nation. Learn more at universityinnovationfellows.org.
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