Developing Innovators

Developing Innovators: How Design Thinking Transforms Students

By: Laura Klaum
Thursday, February 25, 2021

During the fall and spring semesters, IUPUI sports management seniors participate in a capstone course. This class includes a culminating project that demonstrates student ability to work in the industry and solve complex, real-world problems. It is a daunting lesson that takes weeks to bring everything together in a program that prides itself on developing students’ capacity to lead, think, innovate, and design.

“Teaching students to be taskmasters is one thing, but our program—through this course and other experiences—transforms them into thinkers, innovators, and problem solvers,” said associate professor David Pierce, Ph.D. He credits the program’s human-centered design focus for distinguishing IUPUI sports management students above other university programs.

“Our students are innovating instead of following industry trends,” he said. “They learn to question with curiosity and create strategy regardless of what is disrupting the world. Through our program, we arm them with a tool kit to thrive in uncertainty.”

As an example of student preparation, the capstone course requires students to integrate knowledge learned to innovate products, services, and experiences in the sport industry. All projects require a tangible product that is publicly demonstrated. Depending on the semester, that showcase of work may be in the form of a pitch to industry stakeholders or clients, poster presentations to the IUPUI and Indianapolis community, or, as it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, online distribution.

“Last fall, classes were split into smaller groups, and we met outside while it was warm,” Pierce noted. “By doing this, we were safely able to meet for 13 weeks in person, and then I worked with students via Zoom for practice pitches and eventual product delivery.

“As the course has developed over time, I’m asking students to approach an industry problem space that will have a broad impact within the sports community,” Pierce continued, “so that when students are finished and we invite stakeholders, we are well-positioned to initiate broader conversations with several industry professionals.”

Projects focused on two problem-spaced areas facing the sports industry during 2020: youth sports and physical activity during the pandemic and sports broadcast experience. For youth sports and physical activity, students embraced innovation to combat COVID-19-related barriers for physical activity among youth ages 6 through 18 and reimagine opportunities, particularly in low-income and minority communities. In terms of sports broadcasting, students were challenged to think beyond current sport broadcasting trends and announcer appeal to rethink the traditional approach and current limitations.

The undergraduate students now generate longer-term, more meaningful projects that continue to live beyond the classroom. In his role as Sports Innovation Institute director, Pierce leverages the work conducted during the capstone projects to generate future research projects for the institute and graduate-level students.

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