Design Thinking and the Black Graduate Student Association

By February 7, 2017Blog, Uncategorized

On Wednesday, January 18, the Black Graduate Student Association was reintroduced on Ball State’s campus after three years of inactivity. As the current president of this organization, I decided to think like a designer and do some problem solving with attendees at the call out meeting. To my surprise, the meeting attracted individuals from diverse educational backgrounds and departments. So halfway through the event, I challenged students and faculty members to assess the current conditions of the African-American graduate student experience at BSU using design thinking. In an effort to bring community members together through art, literature, education, and interdisciplinary collaboration this spring, BGSA posed this question to the audience: How might we best serve our (prospective) members and the Ball State community?

It was like magic, watching as all 17 audience members began to brainstorm what they believed their needs were and how BGSA could best serve the community. In 90 seconds, 36 ideas were generated using design thinking. Suggestions like civic engagement, conference opportunities, promoting cultural competence, and connecting with Black alumni provided useful insight on how BGSA  should be restructured in the upcoming year.  

Giving each person a chance to share their thoughts in this format really made students feel like their opinions were valid and valued, before even joining the organization. The buy-in from black graduate students was evident as many of them stayed after the meeting to connect with faculty. There were even a few students who expressed interest in taking on more leadership in BGSA by serving on the Executive Board. After one meeting, it is clear that this organization has the power to enrich the lives of its members and the institution as a whole.

In most cases, putting over a dozen people from accounting, urban and regional planning, kinesiology, psychology, student affairs, and adult and community education in one room would create incoherence or at least make people feel disconnected.  But in this situation, using design thinking helped to build an organization students and faculty want to be apart of. It created a social experiment dictated by the wisdom of crowds. It also proved that bringing together diverse perspectives can create a super brain of scholars and professional staff fueling the fire for solutions.  

The model for this kind of idea generation and problem solving is simple. The results are indisputable. Design thinking made it easy for people who’ve never interacted with one another before, but had a personal stake in bridging the gap between connection and minority success, to create an environment where thought and engagement would stimulate commitment and action. This method was useful because it allowed the executive board to design the newly revitalized Black Graduate Student Association around the needs of its primary audience, prospective members and community allies, to illuminate diverse perspectives and strengthen relationships that promote more understanding and positive encounters across ethnic and racial differences. Moving forward, BGSA is more likely to sustain its presence on campus, and increase its membership through this kind of “user-centered” approach.

Considering that BGSA intends to be student-led, this organization plans to utilize design thinking methods to ensure the growth of the Association and improve its messaging in order to innovate in the ways they educate members of the Ball State community.