Design Thinking Workshop for 20 Engineering students by Rajan Patel for 21 days.

Posted on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 by LEAD

Rajan Patel, who is a student of Stanford University (MBA), was a facilitator for the Design Thinking workshop which was organised in the month of June, for the Engineering LEAD students who participated from different parts of India. Rajan has shared his experience as student and as a mentor being with the student’s of India.

I never considered myself the creative type. I was good at maths, science, and technical problem solving and I wanted to use those skills of mine to pursue a stable career path. I grew up thinking I wanted to be a doctor. I surely never thought that I would be an entrepreneur.But after I graduated from college at Stanford, I actually designed an innovative product and helped build a social enterprise, Embrace, which has since won numerous international design awards and impacted and saved the lives of over 100,000 babies in developing countries across the globe.

This transformation and empowerment was no mistake or coincidence. During my engineering experience at Stanford, I was given the opportunity to learn framework to help design products and solution for real problems in the world.

After we moved to India, I got to work with many local engineers as we grew our team. I realized how different their educational experience was from mine; theirs was much more focused on theory and tests, not on creativity, building, or real-world problem solving. They were also much better at designing and solving the problems we dealt with than I was; they were more resourceful and understood local context far better. Some of them have told me that being at Embrace was a transformational experience for them — it has allowed them to see themselves in a new light, as confident and capable problem solvers. I know exactly what they mean when they say that as I had gone through that same transformation myself. I want to empower India’s youth to be the confident problem solvers, change makers, and entrepreneurs they can be.

In order to achieve this, I developed a curriculum for a three-week workshop on the Design Thinking, Making, and Entrepreneurship for college students. I was extremely lucky to be able to partner with the Deshpande Foundation (and the LEAD program, in specific), who hosted me, helped me reach local students, and helped run the workshop. Their mission and ethos is very much in line with my own vision and they have so much valuable experience in the space. I was inspired by the energy of the students and youth who manage and participate in their LEAD programs. The opportunities they offer – camps, trips, financial support, access to networks, training, etc. – have created an energized group of youth who are making real change in the community and for their country.

In my workshop, I started by exposing the twenty five students to the user-centric design thinking framework which helped them identify true problems and insights, rather than starting with solutions. The learning was learning by doing as they applied the process to come up with solutions for a variety of topics ranging from improving the bathroom experience in their colleges, to the local Hubli bus stand, to reducing littering and helping the environment. The five-step design process they followed is illustrated below:

The students were excited to get on the ground, observe and interview users, and dig deeper to identify what people are feeling and what possible problems or needs may exist. Then, they moved on to brainstorm several different ideas to address these needs, and ultimately build prototypes to get feedback from the users. In only a few days the students were not expected to get to functional prototypes or concepts, but rather, to experience the process and their own potential to understand and solve problems.

The next phase of the workshop focused on making, as each student was given the opportunity to use their hands to create. They first worked in teams to learn and build electronics prototypes using Arduino, an easy-to-use electronics software and hardware platform. In just two days, students taught themselves how to use the boards, program code, and build functional prototypes in which certain inputs triggered a corresponding output action.

Throughout the workshop, students learned about entrepreneurship. We were lucky to have met with so many inspiring entrepreneurs such as Sasi Sekar and AnupVijapur of NanoPix, Arjun Bhat from Travspire, Adithya Pasupuleti of Innovation 101, among others, who all shared their personal stories, the ups and downs of their entrepreneurial journeys, personal advice on starting up a company, and served as role models for the budding entrepreneurs to aspire to.

For the final part of the workshop, the students used all they had learned to get into the field, identify problems in their community, and begin to develop ways to potentially address them. Students interacted with farmers, doctors, patients, and handloom workers to identify needs and then ideate potential solutions.  The most meaningful moments for me were hearing students talk about how the experience has allowed them to understand their own ability to identify and address problems, something they did not realize before.

Based on the feedback and what I observed with the students’ work and attitudes, though, it is clear that they have truly developed the skills and confidence to go on and create change in their communities. Especially with the continuing support and amazing opportunities at the Deshpande Foundation, I am excited to follow and help these students as they become leaders and problem solvers. My work also does not end here and I will continue doing my small part in empowering India’s youth to be the change makers they can be!

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