Learning a new skill and then applying that skill to create new, real-world solutions in one weekend is a remarkable accomplishment for anyone. Last weekend, that’s exactly what a group of 40 motivated students did at the 2nd annual College Park Sustainability Jam. Students used the principles of Design Thinking to develop prototype solutions to a myriad of sustainability issues.
The College Park Sustainability Jam (the Jam), hosted by The Center for Social Value Creation and the Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, is part of the Global Sustainability Jam – a coordinated global event where creative, passionate people meet up, form teams, and work to create brand-new real-world designs, projects and initiatives which might make a difference.
Here in College Park, students from across the campus came together in the Executive Meeting Space of Van Munching Hall to learn about the design thinking methodology and apply it to sustainability issues they cared about. By the end of the weekend, they had created 6 prototypes designs, addressing sustainability issues ranging from home water use to environmental policy development.
The Jam kicked off on Friday night with inspiring presentations by Mark Stewart at UMD’s Office of Sustainability and Matt Algar, Director of North American Logistics, at Unilever. They helped frame some of our greatest sustainability challenges, explaining what has been done so far and where more work needs to be done. With fresh, exciting concepts already buzzing around the room, students shared issues and ideas they were passionate about and formed teams with like-minded peers.
The intensity picked up the next day. During this marathon of a Saturday, students participated in a series of workshops on the Design Thinking methodology - the ability to use empathy, creativity, and rationality to build context-specific solutions. Students then applied these concepts to the sustainability issue they were focused on, and began brainstorming and prototyping possible solutions.
David Lemus, Senior Consultant from Peer Insight, an innovation consultancy in Washington D.C., led the morning of workshops and then helped students apply them. “It’s really hard to grasp all of these concepts in one day, let alone use them,” said Lemus during the event, “it’s kind of an overload, but the student are really sticking with it.”
By Sunday morning, every team was getting feedback and tweaking their prototype solutions. There was also a presentation by Sara Herald, Assistant Director of Social Entrepreneurship, at the Center for Social Value Creation, on resources and tools that teams could use to keep their ideas going. The morning, and the Jam, ended with presentations from each team, which were recorded and posted to the Global Sustainability Jam website.
While the prototypes developed at the Jam could very well become successful sustainability solutions, the purpose of the Jam was really to expose students to a new way of thinking and show them how much can be accomplished in one weekend. If students walk away from this weekend empowered to change the world and feel they have started building the skills to do so, their work as the Jam has already been a success.