Student Success: One Student at a Time

Headshot of smiling woman with brown hair in pink topBy Jacqueline Beaulieu, Student Co-Leader, Integrated Learning Experience Domain

On October 5th, members of the Innovation Hub’s Domain and Operations Teams attended a training day where we learned about design thinking for innovation from Nogah Kornberg of the I-Think Initiative at the Rotman School of Management.

You might be wondering: what is design thinking exactly? It is all about developing innovations that respond to real people’s needs. As the Innovation Hub seeks to understand and respond to the unique needs of UofT’s students, design thinking is a method we are utilizing to learn more about students and develop innovations that provide further support.

Our day began with an icebreaker where we shared stories about the (literal) shoes we were wearing. Listeners encouraged storytellers to elaborate using the simple prompts “why” and “tell me more”. I suggest trying this exercise with a friend- it’s amazing how much you can learn about each other in a conversation about your shoes!

We then shifted to learning about three gears of innovation:

  • Empathy and need finding through understanding others and their needs;
  • Ideation and prototyping for feedback via developing ideas inspired by these needs;
  • Strategy and testing through implementation of these ideas.

To explore this learning, students were paired with staff and encouraged to share their best and worst stories about accessing services at the university as well as their best and worst stories about the university itself. We then created fictional personas inspired by students’ real life stories and in doing so, developed short stories about each persona that conveyed several of their expressed needs.

Teams then selected one of the expressed needs and brainstormed a list of potential creative responses from a student services perspective. We were encouraged to consider the sky as our limit! Each team selected a concept to further develop, pitch, and receive feedback on.

As a new researcher with a practitioner background in student affairs and services, I am drawn to design thinking’s commitment to enabling individual stories to be heard. If we are to better understand and respond to the unique needs of students, we should seek to listen to and learn from individual students as often as possible. Aspects of students’ experiences are oftentimes so specific to individuals that one will need to take the time to fully understand and appreciate individual circumstances in order to provide support that is both relevant and uplifting.

At large research-intensive universities with finite resources, one can easily appreciate why students might at times feel more like simple swipes on a student card reader rather than as complex and valued people. By providing additional space for students to share their individual stories through the Innovation Hub, our community positions itself to become an increasingly caring and uplifting place.

For more information on Design Thinking, follow @RotmanIThink and visit their website at

To see photos of our team in action during the training day, join us on Facebook!

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