Contributed by Molly Robey, Assistant Director of Communication, Loyola University Maryland
Each semester, in the first weeks of his ‘Design Thinking’ course at Loyola University Maryland, Dr. William Romani invites students to participate in personal reflection.
“They have to identify what they value and where those values come from,” he said. “Then they need to be able to clearly say what their intentions are and what they stand for. When you do that, you are able to identify people who feel the same way that you do. Then, you can collaborate and find solutions for things that you care about—and work together to find a solution that meets a challenge you have chosen.”
By beginning the conversation with reflection, students are better poised to research the topic with an energy, focus and interest that allows them to identify possible solutions for partner stakeholders. “The entire process is feedback, reflection and discernment,” Romani explained. “The design thinking process fits really well with Jesuit values.”
That Jesuit approach is infused throughout Loyola’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CI&E), which was founded in 2018 to help students become innovators and future entrepreneurs.
“Health and technology are fields that are predicated on innovation, but in all business arenas, it’s now understood that teams need innovators who can operate like entrepreneurs within companies, or start new ones in order to move quickly to solve emerging problems,” said Wendy Bolger, director of the CI&E. “As with the Jesuits, successful students will learn flexibility and resilience—to live with ‘one foot raised’—ready to meet societal and economic demands.”
Romani, who teaches the aforementioned Design Thinking class, is the inaugural entrepreneur-in-residence of CI&E. He decided that the right approach for last semester (which was entirely virtual) would be having his students focus on issues within the University. He reached out to chairs, directors and centers across campus, who eagerly brought forward challenges that student teams could explore.
“I asked them what types of pressing problems they were addressing that our students might be able to help with through the use of Human-Centered Design,” Romani said. “We got back a pretty impressive list of challenges, and our students took on seven of them—the most we’ve ever addressed in the course.”
The student groups explored such topics as Loyola’s diversity requirement; how to create a STEM experience that recruits and retains a diverse student body; how to collect information from students for the University’s archives; and how to increase the number of students using the Writing Center.
Carolyn Thaney, a junior majoring in communications with a minor in social innovation and entrepreneurship, was drawn to the question of how Loyola could raise awareness of its diversity course requirement, which was designed to help students understand the importance of exploring and applying behaviors that promote diversity, justice and anti-oppression. Her group conducted research and focused on bringing a fresh perspective and possible changes to help address the concern.
“I think it’s great that my group’s work could potentially encourage students to take advantage of an opportunity that Loyola provides them,” said Thaney, a resident of Rochester, NY. “Changing the narrative of the diversity requirement is really exciting for me.”
Furthering Innovation and Business
The impact of the CI&E can be felt in many ways. Loyola participates in Stanford University’s University Innovation Fellows (UIF) program, through which faculty challenge a select group of students with bringing innovative ideas to their university to help foster problem-solving and innovation through design-thinking.
This year, Loyola’s UIF fellows are working to develop a Near-Peer Mentorship Program for Underrepresented Students in STEM that will pair first-year or sophomore students as mentees, with a junior or a senior student as mentors. The mentors will help mentees navigate through issues such as course selection, accessing resources, and getting an introduction to conducting research, which have shown to disproportionally challenge students of color in STEM.
“The fifth cohort of the University Innovation Fellows at Loyola has demonstrated their ability to be agile and nimble while being away from our beautiful campus at this time,” said Roughani. “Our UIFs have demonstrated their leadership and ability to be agents of change by moving their project forward, despite pandemic challenges.”
At Loyola and Beyond
In addition to helping students develop an innovative mindset within the Loyola community, the CI&E’s mission off-campus is to be a part of transforming Baltimore through wealth and job creation among women entrepreneurs and founders of color across the city.
To further its investment in innovation and entrepreneurship among students, Loyola will co-host—with the University of Baltimore—Leading with Entrepreneurship: Succeeding in Revitalization, a global conference on October 13-16, 2021. During this conference, Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Center members will share success stories in entrepreneurship and innovation education in pursuit of revitalization.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Loyola’s CI&E has assisted small businesses with mentorship and consultation in a time of great uncertainty through the Crisis Navigators program. Crisis Navigators is an emergency pro-bono consulting resource designed to specifically help Baltimore City-based businesses navigate the crisis.
“We talked to such a diverse pool of businesses that are connected in their need to pivot to respond to Covid-19, and their commitment to their employees and customers,” said Bolger. “At Loyola, we have an amazing network of faculty, alumni, and others who are eager to share their expertise in a way that is impactful to the community.”