Idea Lab

Innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship, and Artistry

The IDEA Lab is a groundbreaking new initiative on campus designed to inspire students from different majors, backgrounds, and perspectives to come together to work on big, real-world issues. Using a Design Thinking process, students work in teams across UM-Dearborn's colleges - the College of Business, College of Engineering and Computer Science, College of Education, Health, and Human Services, and College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters - to tackle a complex problem in collaboration with a client from the Metro Detroit community.

A pilot launching in Fall 2019 will bring together students from Mathematics and Statistics, Bioengineering, and Educational Technology courses to work on strategies for growing the Maize and Blue Math Circle, a popular and successful program that helps local middle and high school students improve their skills in math in a fun and supportive environment.

How does it work?

The principles are simple. Teams of students from three different colleges work together on a project for a portion of the semester together with a community partner who has a problem to be solved. The questions clients bring to the table can range from global ones: how do we, as a planet, deal with toxic waste produced by electronic products like cell phones? to local ones: how do we encourage our local community's transportation system to be more accessible to people with disabilities? 

The focus for student teams is on the process of design thinking, problem solving, and collaboration to address the posed question. That means the end product - the proposed solution developed by the teams - is not graded. Instead, students are encouraged to explore multiple possibilities, to take risks, and to potentially make wrong turns in the interest of developing innovative new ideas. There is no such thing as failure.

I'm a student. Why is this for me?

Design thinking, collaboration, and communication are regularly reported as some of the most highly desired and marketable skills across all jobs in the workforce. Your experience with a unique, exciting, collaborative project that bridges several disciplines will position you as a particularly versatile job candidate with strong problem-solving and communication skills. Your experience in the IDEA Lab will not only boost your skills, but add an important extra line to your resume.

In addition, you'll have the opportunity to work with professionals through partnering with a real-world client, which will help you network with the broader community and gain new professional references - and perhaps even leads on jobs after graduation. Not only that, but you'll build strong relationships with your peers in other majors and take part in a team working together to answer a real-world question.

You'll become more comfortable with risk-taking, build your leadership and project management skills, and, perhaps most importantly, contribute to making your community a better place. You can make a difference.

I'm a faculty member. How do I participate?

The IDEA Lab involves faculty members from three different units on campus - any combination of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters, the College of Business, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and the College of Education, Health, and Human Services - joining their courses together for a portion of the semester. For a single project, students from all three courses form teams that work with an outside partner to address a real-world problem or issue.

The parameters are simple:

  • All three courses meet at the same time to allow for students to work together.
  • Courses meet together a few times during the semester to allow for teams to collaborate, as determined by the participating faculty (typically 2-3 times).
  • The projects themselves are not graded to allow for risk-taking and to allow room for possible - and productive - failure. Instead, students are expected to turn in evidence of participation and reflection on their learning which can be graded. Faculty have flexibility in how they choose to assess their students' involvement in the project.
  • The courses need not be related to the project in terms of content. The focus is on design thinking and interdisciplinary collaboration, which means that all experiences, skills, and perspectives are valuable in approaching any kind of complex problem.

And you'll have help:

  • Librarians from the Mardigian Library serve as research and organizational support in service of the project and students.
  • The Library provides space for class and student team meetings.
  • You'll receive a small budget for snacks, transportation, or other expenses needed for the project.

The process for finding collaborating faculty and/or an outside partner can take many forms. You might have an external partner in mind, but don't know of faculty who could join you. You might have faculty collaborators lined up, but need an external partner to work with. The IDEA Lab team is here to help. Please contact director Maureen Linker for more information and to get involved.


I'm with a community organization. How do I get involved?

We welcome inquiries from outside partners - companies, nonprofits, agencies, and more - who would benefit from working with a team of students to generate insight on a complex issue affecting your organization or to advance a project needing innovative new ideas or perspectives. The IDEA Lab team can help find faculty and courses to work with you. Please contact IDEA Lab director Maureen Linker for more information.

About the IDEA Lab

The IDEA Lab is an initiative of the UM-Dearborn Office of the Provost. It is the product of a yearlong collaborative development process among faculty across campus.

Maureen Linker, Professor of Philosophy and Library Director, directs the IDEA Lab. Librarians from the Mardigian Library provide research support and student coaching.

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