1/17/2018 Katie Machen

Innovation Course Connects F&M Students with Lancaster Community

One Friday afternoon last September, the students of Creativity, Innovation and Design (CID) assembled in the “Cage,” a room in the basement of Shadek-Fackenthal Library at Franklin & Marshall College.

In twos and threes, they carried in tall standing tables they built, their new workspaces for the semester.

“I’ve gotten over my fear of power tools,” one student said. 

It’s not a typical course. Co-taught by six faculty and staff, the concept of CID sprung from last January’s campus symposium on creativity and innovation. Last summer, five professors, Etienne Gagnon (physics), Dan Ardia (biology), Kerry Sherin Wright (English), Bryan Stinchfield (business), Dirk Eitzen (film), along with Teb Locke (director of instructional and emerging technologies), attended Stanford School of Design Thinking to learn how to teach ideation. At "d.school," as it’s called, the instructors learned to facilitate creativity, focus on the importance of doing, and came up with ideas for projects.

The resulting class of 18 students in various majors split into six groups, each working with a nonprofit organization as community partner.

“The goal of the class is to look at a problem, identify a solution, and try and fix as we go,” said Gagnon, who heads the teaching team. “The professors are doing the same thing with the course itself.”

  • The students stood at the tables they made, their workspaces for the semester. “I’ve gotten over my fear of power tools,” one student said. The students stood at the tables they made, their workspaces for the semester. “I’ve gotten over my fear of power tools,” one student said. Image Credit: Deb Grove

Throughout the semester, the students and their community partners worked together to identify and test ideas. They followed prescribed design-thinking methods that generated solutions to the problems faced by each nonprofit.

“We want to give students a chance to tackle bigger problems than they normally would in the classroom, to be able to handle failures, and to become better at teamwork,” Gagnon said. “What makes a good team? How do you help team members be their best? How do you do homework when it’s poorly defined, like ‘make a table’?”

Mid-semester, Trustee Joan Fallon, CEO of Curemark, a pharmaceutical company working to reduce clinical symptoms of autism, visited the class for a guest lecture on entrepreneurship. Fallon, a supporter of the class, also listened to each group’s progress and provided feedback on how to move forward.

“You can’t operate in paranoid mode because you become paralyzed,” Fallon said. “Managing risk is the crux of the whole thing. It’s better to fail early than fail late; the potential to fail later is much more catastrophic than failing early.”

C&I Master Sequence v 2

At the end of the semester, the class presented its work to an audience of faculty, friends and their community partners.

One group worked with Modern Art, an art and design studio that offers community events and activities.

“Modern Art believes habitual behavior is the antithesis to community engagement,” said Lauren Matt, a senior from Lafayette Hill, Pa.

Matt's group aimed to break people of their habits through shock. They transformed a stationary bike into a Modern Mobile Public Art Generator, which currently functions as a pedal-powered charging station for cell phones.

Another group worked with the Science Factory to create engaging exhibits for the learning center’s annual “Science of ‘Star Wars’” events and for the Extraordinary Give, Lancaster County’s largest day of giving.

Emily Landis, Science Factory’s executive director, said F&M students provided the children with “a fun, customized experience” at the “Star Wars” events, which welcomed about 1,500 children.

Other students worked with the North Museum on ways to keep people coming back by creating scavenger hunts for kids and promotional ideas.

  • “We want to give students a chance to tackle bigger problems than they normally would in the classroom, to be able to handle failures, and to become better at teamwork,” Gagnon said. “We want to give students a chance to tackle bigger problems than they normally would in the classroom, to be able to handle failures, and to become better at teamwork,” Gagnon said. Image Credit: Deb Grove

Lancaster General Health wanted to find a way to entice millennials to sign up for health care. The students came up with an idea for a Netflix-inspired monthly subscription application to instantly chat with doctors and skip lines at urgent care for non-acute illnesses. The app would allow each user to upload his or her medical history so doctors could provide a holistic approach.

Those paired with make717, Lancaster’s first maker space, helped the innovation center to connect with the community through regular newsletters. The students also created a menu of lessons and resources, enabling members to run workshops in local schools.

Chestnut Housing Corp., which provides affordable rental housing, is currently renovating an apartment building that includes a former bar. Their question: How to transform that space?

“We were very open to new ideas from everyone,” said Rana Sinangil, a senior from Mooresville, N.C. Her group reached out to community members to find a solution that would benefit the neighborhood.

Finally, with J.P. McCaskey High School, the group envisioned a tutoring center to connect high school and college students from F&M, an idea the high school intends to pursue. “Because we persisted, we were able to find a diamond in the rough," said senior Rifatul Istiaque from Bronx, N.Y. "Our message to the next iteration of this class is to persevere.”

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