Priorities:MTU Faculty Project

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Project Name: designTech - pathways to innovation

Project by Faculty Innovation Fellows Candidate Lisa Casper

Why is this project important to you, your department, & your Fellows?

designTech - pathways to innovation is important to both my department and my program, Husky Innovate. As an advisor at Pavlis Honors College we encourage students to develop their honors abilities: Learn deeply, Welcome challenge, embrace ambiguity, communicate empathetically, Engage in mentorship and Value diverse perspectives. By providing an opportunity for PHC and all students to engage in the design thinking process they will experience and practice PHC honors abilities first-hand.

As Program Manager with Husky Innovate, Michigan Tech’s innovation and entrepreneurship resource center, I look for ways to engage students in experiential learning to increase their confidence and empower them as innovators. designTech, will create opportunities for students across the Tech campus to connect with each other, UIF students and campus stakeholders. By creating communities of support and fun interactive experiences in which UIFs facilitate and Tech students across disciplines engage, the UIF human centered approach will become part of the Michigan Technological University STEM culture.

Both UIFs and candidates will greatly benefit from the proposed program. This prototype envisions a way for teams of Michigan Tech students to engage in hands-on design thinking activities to solve a variety of complex challenges. UIFs will continue to hone their innovation skills and develop as innovation leaders. UIF candidates have built in support through the mentorship of UIF graduates. UIF candidates will also have access to networks of stakeholders for the customer discovery and testing phases during their projects.


designTech - pathways to innovation will be a group of Michigan Tech student innovators, led by UIF fellows who assemble each year during the fall and spring semesters. This group has the potential to shift the culture of Michigan Technological University to a human centered design approach as it models campus change and improvement using design thinking methods. The designTech group will be analogous to a “tiger team” or think tank group who gather to solve tough problems. designTech will consist of a special group of designers and innovators who are recruited annually to solve a semester long problem for the campus community. Challenges across categories such as technical, social, systems, entrepreneurial, etc will be considered. To solicit ideas, we will have an outward web platform with a place for campus community members to submit their ideas for a challenge. The individual(s) whose challenge is accepted will be invited to be part of the design team. Pathways to innovation will provide access to design thinking materials, teams of student innovators and access to Alley Makerspace equipment and training. Pathways to innovation will be beneficial for both early and mature phase innovators.

There are two key parts to the designTech program, creating student teams and matching teams to curated campus challenges. Initially designTech will be a team of about twenty to twenty-five students from diverse academic and cultural backgrounds, but there is the potential for this number to scale-up as student demand increases. The program will be led by UIF students and organized by Husky Innovate administration. Alley Makerspace student leadership will be invited and encouraged to be part of the designTech team. Each spring, designTech will have a recruitment period in which students apply or are invited to participate in the following year’s program. UIF students will be honorary members who are invited to participate. UIF veterans will mentor UIF candidates and connect them to designTech networks of stakeholders assisting them when they conduct customer discovery for the UIF program. After selection, the designTech student team’s first task will be to develop a challenge selection rubric. The rubric will include questions to measure the impact of a solution to a proposed challenge, but it will also include questions which allow students to select challenges that align with their interests and skills. Personal interest and passion will help the team to follow-through during the more difficult parts of each design challenge. One challenge will be accepted each semester. A prototype and milestone will be reached by the end of the semester. The details of this will be agreed to ahead of time with the key stakeholder(s).

The composition of the group is important. UIFs will bring their knowledge and experience with design thinking, leading students' teams through the stickier parts of the process. Alley Makerspace leaders will also have a key role. By creating an opportunity for synergies between design thinking and making it is believed that the quality of prototypes will expand and that maker leaders with depth knowledge and experience using tools and equipment will foster the development of higher resolution prototypes. One possible outcome of this process is that as makers become more familiar with design thinking their making will become more innovative as well. Pulling in diverse groups of students is key to innovation as diverse students will have a chance to contribute their individual perspective. Team building activities such as stokes will be important. A one-year team cohort and commitment will provide team members the opportunity to build trust, thus empowering them to share creative ideas and “think outside of the box”. Sharing common goals each semester will support team focus and contribute to a shared team mental model.

As stakeholders across campus witness designTech, led by UIF changemakers tackling ambiguous problems campus buy-in and involvement will increase exponentially. Through co-creating with campus stakeholders an innovation mindset will be shared by students, faculty and staff. The opportunity to be part designTech will be sought out as students hear from other students how rewarding the experience was for them. Individuals who feel unable to affect change alone will have access to teams of student innovators to address their challenge. Cross-campus collaboration and the opportunity for Michigan Tech campus individuals to have a voice and a role in changemaking will shift our culture at Tech to be a technically innovative human centered approach.

Stakeholders served

  1. University Innovation Fellows & University Innovation Fellow candidates
  2. The Alley Makerspace Student Interns
  3. Pavlis Honors College administration

Key Milestones

  • December 2020: Slide deck presentation to Husky Innovate, (test) and gather feedback (empathy), iterate (ideate)
  • March 2021: Proposal to administration (test), gather feedback, iterate
  • June 2021: Website development
  • September 2021: Revised prototype
  • December 2021: Customer discovery and iteration
  • March 2022: Final proposal and launch of website

An Innovation Portfolio

Stakeholder interview logs, slide deck, schedule of milestones and “inch pebbles”, google calendar invitations, illustrations and development of a website

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