The Convocation Room at Friend Center was a sea of orange and black on a recent Saturday morning, as seventy members of the Alumni Council Executive Committee gathered for a design thinking sprint led by Rafe Steinhauer, Entrepreneurial Program Manager for Tiger Challenge, EGR 200 Lecturer and one of Keller Center’s Design Thinking gurus.

This high energy group broke up into ‘Whigs’ and ‘Clios’ and set about creating a better reunion experience for one another through this hour-long workshop.  Many in the enthusiastic group had no reference for the design thinking methodology.  Matt Jacobs, class of 1977, had never heard of design thinking and was curious and eager to participate. 

The exercise began with the Interview to understand the current reunions experience of their partner; when they attended reunions, what activities they participated in, who attended with them, etc. This was followed by Dig Deeper; this second interview round was focused on assessing the needs of their partner, understanding the emotional experience, and getting to know their partner on a deeper level. They asked each other questions like: what was your favorite reunion memory, where do you like to vacation, who do you most like to see when you come back on campus?

Sitting at round tables, the alumni had a current Tiger Challenge or EGR 200 undergraduate student at their table to give pointers and keep the lively group on task.

The crowd settled down during the Summarize Needs activity when they identified insights into what could help enhance their partner’s experience at reunions.  The next phase seemed to be the most challenging for the group, Ideation. In this activity, participants were asked to brainstorm possible innovations for their partner through sketching ideas (NO WORDS!). With the clock ticking, the group had little time to worry about their level of artistic abilities and the room quieted as everyone thoughtfully created small storyboards and shared them with one another. Which led to Iterate when they reflected on the feedback and created one innovation, improvement, or solution.

The final exercise included pipe cleaners, tin foil, and lots of creativity as the group set out to Prototype their concepts. The tables were soon filled with pipe cleaner furniture, tin foil tents, and even a paper vegan food truck. “No matter their line of work, I hope participants came away with a greater appreciation of the importance of empathy in creative problem solving. In the Tiger Challenge, our students spend months learning from and about their projects’ stakeholders, so I wanted to give alumni a taste our students’ experience.”, explained Steinhauer.

As the session ended, there was lots of chatter about how energizing and helpful the exercise was. “I was surprised at how quickly each phase sharpened my understanding of my partner and how I would innovate the experience for them.  As a lawyer, I feel using design thinking may help to solve issues more quickly,” said Matt Jacobs ’77.

“I had no knowledge of design thinking before today. I think we all default to our singular views of how to approach solutions. It’s nice to acquire a new toolset,” remarked Anthony Fittizzi ’97.