Wells Innovation Lab

The Story of the Wells College Innovation Lab

Students and post-it murals at the Wells College Innovation Lab

In 2010, under the auspices of Wells College’s new Center for Business & Entrepreneurship in the Liberal Arts, the anthropologist Tracy Brandenburg founded the Wells College Innovation Lab and was immediately joined by the Italian architect Sirietta Simoncini.

In a space they custom designed to enhance creativity, Tracy and Sirietta currently co-teach Wells students Innovation and Creative Problem Solving. In this class they train future innovators in Design Thinking while seeking to solve real-world problems, locally and globally.

Students brainstorming on a OpenIDEO challenge

In the Spring semester of 2011 the Innovation class participated in an OpenIDEO challenge sponsored by the Queensland Government of Australia: How might we better connect food production and consumption? Wells students, the only college students participating in the challenge, made it to the top ten and for this reason got the immediate attention of the OpenIDEO staff, who continue to feature the Wells College Innovation Lab on their website, and use this case to teach other universities how to use this online platform for social innovation in the college classroom. Since then, the Wells Innovation team has been in constant communication with IDEO, consulting on how to improve every aspect of their online challenges (click here to see how OpenIDEO features the Wells Innovation Lab)

Students prototyping at the Wells College Innovation Lab

When Tracy and Sirietta aren’t busy teaching Wells students the art of innovation, they conduct design thinking workshops, literally bringing the lab to other universities and organizations and leading them through the Design Thinking process.

Here is a sample of Tracy and Sirietta’s activities:

  • Assisted in facilitating a two day charrette at the Syracuse University COLAB, where thirty-six students from six SU schools and colleges came together to explore creative solutions for environmental sustainability (November 19, 2010).
  • Conducted a workshop at the College of Architecture at Cornell University, where graduate students from different Cornell colleges, including Architecture, Engineering, Computer and Information Science, Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, came together for a session on the fundamentals of Design Thinking. This workshop was part of a series of skills development sessions led by the City and Regional Planning students of the College of Architecture (April 22, 2011).
  • Served as mentors to artists in the pilot “Mentor to Market” program at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. The Santa Fe Folk Art Market has the vision of creating a new kind of global marketplace – one where dying art forms find appreciative buyers and threatened cultural traditions can be preserved. Tracy and Sirietta had the privilege of working with artists from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Kenya, Ecuador, Nepal, Peru, Morocco, and Rwanda (July 2011).
  • Organized and facilitated a “Designathon” on Corporate Social Responsibility along with the faculty of the MFA program in Design for Social Innovation at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Participants with whom they worked are: The World Bank, Cisco, Arup, The American Sustainable Business Council, Catchafire, and The Hub. (September 16 and 17, 2011). Watch the video of this event.
  • Led the Design Connect students through a hands-on exercise that simulates the entire Design Thinking process. This was followed by a discussion on how Design Thinking can be used for their specific needs. Design Connect is an initiative of the Cornell Design and Planning Club, an organization that promotes interdisciplinary collaboration on campus and facilitates volunteer student design work for the surrounding New York State community (October 13, 2011).
  • Led a session where undergraduate and graduate students from different Cornell colleges, institutes and schools, including Architecture, Art & Planning, Human Ecology, Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA) and the Johnson School of Management, came together for two hours to design, build, and submit a solution for the Amnesty International challenge on OpenIDEO: How can technology help people working to uphold human rights in the face of unlawful detention? This was a hands-on workshop that taught the Cornell students some of the fundamentals of Design Thinking. The two Cornell teams that submitted ideas to Amnesty International were among the final nine that won the competition (November 16, 2011).
  • Conducted a two-day workshop at the College of Engineering at Cornell University, where graduate students in Systems Engineering from the “Creativity, Innovation & Leadership” class worked on the Social Innovation challenge: How might we restore vibrancy to Ithaca downtown? Students were guided through the whole ethnographic field work experience and facilitated in synthesizing their empathy findings (February 28 and March 6, 2012).
  • Led a series of sessions where undergraduate and graduate students came together to design, build, and submit a solution for the European Commission challenge on OpenIDEO: How might we support web entrepreneurs in launching and growing sustainable global businesses?
  • Currently providing strategic support to the Development Marketplace program (DM) of the World Bank Institute. The DM serves as a competitive grants program that assists Social Enterprises in expanding the supply of public goods and services to populations in the bottom three deciles of a developing country’s income distribution. The program currently focuses its efforts on India, Kenya, and Egypt.
  • Consulting for OpenIDEO.com, an online platform for designing social good. The Wells Innovation Lab serves as both a model and site of learning and experimentation for OpenIDEO. OpenIDEO regularly consults with the Wells Innovation team about how our approach – using Design Thinking to solve the challenges – compares with the outcomes and solutions of the global community. You can see the OpenIDEO team notes at this link.

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