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How to engage first year students in design thinking

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The need identified in this "How To" is to engage first year students in design thinking. A popular topic in the UIF exploration of higher education is how student leaders can change higher education. The incorporation of design thinking into beginner level classes of all fields can be highly beneficial.

In this article we will discuss how to engage first year students in design thinking. Design thinking is a method of problem solving that is both creative and logical. It's all about finding the best solution. Current fellow,Krusha Shah, has done a significant amount of work in this field. She is from Bartlett, IL (northwest suburb of Chicago) and attends Saint Louis University. Through her work on campus, she was able to help students through the challenges of their first year, as well as inspiring them with a new outlook on how to problem solve, both in the classroom and in the professional field.


Design thinking is frequently leveraged as a tool for solving problem. Tall trees will grow on a solid foundation. In other words, it is vital to have freshman learn about design thinking early in their college careers so they are able to make use of this valuable tool throughout the rest of their lives. Implementing design thinking for freshmen will have a significant impact and equip freshman with an extremely valuable tool for their college and professional careers. The efficiency of the team’s project work will increase the overall quality of life. However, design thinking should not be limited to only engineering or business majors. This method of thinking stands to benefit all majors, from fine arts to medical. The fellows are tasked with identifying a need in their community, creating and testing solutions, which is just the kind of project that can use a little creativity! And it will work through the projects by teaching them some methods, mindsets and skills of design thinking. The ultimate goal of this project is to get students on all campuses open to, and using design thinking.


  • To teach students early in their college careers about a unique method of problem solving.
  • To recognize and apply diverse ways of thinking.
  • To become more effective in diverse ways of thinking.

Why Design Thinking?

Many times it can be difficult to find an direct solution to a complicated problem. While there is no correct or incorrect way to solve a problem, certainly even attempting to find an answer can be daunting. Innovative, business changing ideas can be fleeting at times, but that’s the goal of what design thinking helps address. Design thinking is a proven and repeatable problem-solving protocol that any person, business or profession can employ to achieve big results. Design thinking combines creative and critical thinking that allows information and ideas to be organized, decisions to be made, situations to be improved, and knowledge to be gained. It’s a mindset focused on solutions and not the problem.

Promotions and Time Frame

To attain the maximum participation of students in the event, scheduling events in the late afternoon has proven beneficial for gathering a small crowd. Free food often will entice those students on the fence and possibly even some students that have no idea what design thinking is all about. However, it is possible to plan events during a class period, which ensures a large turnout. However, this requires the approval of the professor of the class, and sometimes even the head of the department. While many of them should be willing to participate, it's important to be clear about your goals, your methods, and what you are trying to achieve.

There are all sorts of events that have been hosted by fellows all over the world to get students involved in design thinking on their campuses. UI Fresh is a workshop Krusha Shah and Christine Maida put together on their campus that involved speaking in introduction courses and holding workshops for all majors to introduce the concept of design thinking. Other campuses hold valuable opportunities for students to get involved in innovation such as Innovation Challenges or even a cardboard boat race. When design thinking is promoted as a way for freshman to have fun and impact their campuses in a positive way, there's no limit to the amount of change that can occur.

Academic Permissions

Academic permission is to be taken from the management to make design thinking course as a part of curriculum so that every student can imbibe design thinking skills and knowledge ever since from the very first year this helps students to reshape themselves in order to achieve this we need a strong recommendation and support from faculty and management if we can achieve this that will act as our first success in introducing design thinking to fresher’s.


Strong support is needed from people to accomplish a task, but this can sometimes be difficult due to the busy schedules and conflicted interests that are common with university faculty and professors.However, the idea of design thinking as a campus-wide initiative is too important. As University Innovation Fellows, we have to convince them by expressing how design thinking have true impact on students. A few ways to get support on campus include:

1. Student Support

If there are no trainees or current UIF members, this task cannot be accomplished, so student support is the most vital aspect. Trainees need to be involved on campus talking to faculty and other students, expressing the desire to have these programs. If there is a desire on campus to attend and host these workshops, faculty and management become much more willing to allow it.

2. Faculty Support

Faculty support is needed because students interact with professors and teachers aides every day. With students being able to form a bond over design thinking with their professors, the impact will be significantly higher. Many professors are already passionate about innovation and design thinking. They are just waiting for students to share in their beliefs.

3. Management Support

Management must be on board in order to grant permission for allocation of rooms or seminar halls to conduct events. They also can provide required accessories and other things needed to successfully promote an event. Allocating faculty can usually only be done through the administrators or management.


For any workshops you conduct, finding a space in campus that will accommodate people and the needs for the event, such as mobiles, white boards, chairs, desks etc., is highly important. It will make it much easier for those attending to return if it becomes a weekly meeting. It is also important to get permission to use all these from authorities in your campus.


While the focus for these events should be on freshman, it is encouraged to get upperclassman involvement too. Each freshman class will be on campus for between four to five years. If one freshman is inspired to use design thinking, the amount of change that can happen over those four years will be exponential. According to Krusha Shah and Christine Maida, they tried to conduct their events in the most fun way possible to not only inspire their classmates, but to promote design thinking campus-wide.


Faculty is the person who acts as a sink of knowledge and guides us to perform more effectively on design thinking some important duties that include are:

  •  Awareness on design thinking
  •  Acting as a bridge between entrepreneurs and trainers
  •  Mentoring student projects
  •  Conducting activities in more practical manners which acts like a fun session.


 Written By

Kusuma Amilineni
Umeshwar Reddy
Sucharitha Chokkappagari
Sai  Renuka Pericharla
Chaitanya Krishna Kasaraneni
Jackson Gleason