Priorities:Sophia University Faculty Project

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Project by Faculty Innovation Fellows Candidate Magdalena Ionescu

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

The current crisis has deprived us of the physical interaction on which we depend for our wellbeing and personal growth. Coming out of it with this renewed awareness is a golden opportunity to focus not only on improving existing methods and avenues for interaction and learning, but also opening up new spaces for innovative thinking and problem solving. As Einstein put it, we can’t solve a problem with the same mindset as the one that created it. In this spirit, I believe overall my project opens up spaces for students (and associated faculty and staff) to engage creatively and flexibly with existing problems both on and off campus.

Giving students a sense of ownership and responsibility in designing their own student life experience between curriculum and real life outside the campus is a crucial process for self-reflection and growth. Moreover, creating the space for like-minded (proactive, empathetic, self-growth oriented) students to interact on common problems and innovate solutions for themselves not only empowers them but also acts as a source of inspiration and motivation for their peers.

The primary focus is on facilitating an anxiety-free community-supported transition to student life on campus for freshman students (2020 and 2021 cohorts) who have not yet experienced campus life. The intention is to use this opportunity to lay the foundation for a creativity and innovation-minded community. The fellows will be crucial pillars of this community as they will facilitate and introduce their experience and skills of design thinking and problem solving to others. I strongly believe that the faculty and staff will also be stimulated from the interaction with such a community of highly motivated solution-oriented students, in and out of the classroom.


My two-year project employs the design thinking mindset and tools to help freshman students (2020 and 2021 cohorts) design their own student life experience on campus. It is structured around a series of events meant to provide the necessary “scaffolding” for their own individual journey through interaction with like-minded students of all grades.

The expected outcome is for students to develop an awareness of their own role in designing and creating their experience. In practical terms, the goal of the project is to create an (emotional, informational and physical) support system of like-minded students as well to provide the space and the skills for students to think about and design their own experience.

The first leg of this two-year journey is the “Team-building workshop" scheduled for December 2020. Ideally, we would be able to carry out a real workshop on campus with a limited number of 20 participants where we would run a “Spaghetti Tower” kind of challenge. Should the lockdown persist, we will run an online interactive workshop instead. The aim is to gather together and create the community core of like-minded individuals (students, faculty and staff). The experience from this workshop will be used in April around the orientation period to welcome the new freshman cohort.

The next step involves growing the community by reaching out to junior and senior students to join us, in particular by creating a “Buddy support network”. While emphasis is on real interaction between students, during the pandemic as well as after, a digital platform would enhance the extent of the support available as it removes the limitation of one-on-one type interaction, and instead allows for flexible round-the-clock matching of freshman students’ support needs with the info, resources, skills and time availability of buddies. We will explore existing platforms and the necessity/possibility of developing an App for this purpose. In April 2021 as the new batch of freshman students joins, we will introduce the Buddy system platform for test and use.

By June 2021 we will organize 1-2 workshops, which we will call “Fix-It Idea Shop”, focused on identifying campus student-life related issues/problems where we will use design thinking mindset and tools for student-generated solutions. We will run polls (Doodle), questionnaires (Google) and gather suggestions virtually through Miro boards and physically through the “Student Opinion/Suggestion Box” system on campus, as well as identify problems from the participants on the day of the workshops. The solution-prototypes generated will be tested and presented to stakeholders and a “winner” idea will be turned into a project. In December we will organize an event to report on the June project progress/outcome.

In September 2021 we will organize a Boot Camp - where we will have interactive presentations of past year achievements and panel discussion on using design thinking in student life. The aim is for the students involved in these activities to reflect on their own journey and goals achieved, but also to “showcase” their activities so as to stimulate and inspire a wider audience.

In March 2022 we will organize a “Half-a-Graduation Ceremony” Event for 2020 freshman cohort, to reflect on their journey so far (last 2 years) as well as to set personal goals and devise a strategy for the following two years. At the end of the event students will be asked to write a self-addressed letter to "graduating self” where they state the resolution they have set for themselves and the goals towards which they will direct themselves in the remaining two years.

Stakeholders served

  1. Freshman year students (2020 and 2021 cohorts) in Faculty of Liberal Arts and Faculty of Law
  2. Students interested in design thinking and event organization

Key Milestones

  • December 2020: Team-building workshop (“Spaghetti tower” mindset in virtual version)
  • March 2021: Buddy Support Network platform (registering freshman students and senior students interested in linking with and supporting freshman students)
  • June 2021: Two “Fix-it! Idea Shop” workshops on identifying and solving campus-life issues (through design thinking mindset and tools) —> students set up 1-2 “Fix-it Idea Projects”
  • September 2021: Boot Camp - interactive presentations of past year achievements and panel discussion on using design thinking in student life
  • December 2021: Report progress on “Fix-it Idea Projects” (of June 2021)
  • March 2022: "Half-A-Graduation Ceremony" Event - reflecting on personal journey and setting up goals for the next two years (write a letter to “my graduating future self”)

An Innovation Portfolio

  1. Virtual team-building workshop facilitator slides;
  2. Buddy network process overview;
  3. “Fix-it Idea Shop” workshop facilitation guides and documentation;
  4. Boot Camp schedule and activities documentation;
  5. “Half-a-Graduation Ceremony” facilitation guide and “Letter to graduating future self” template