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Making ideas happen: Our experience at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering (Update September 2014)

As we went through the OpenIDEO impact stories book, we realized that we have brought to life several ideas that emerged from openIDEO: from the OpenIDEO student chapter to the Youth Cafes, with a stop by the Greenhouse: A triple impact story at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering.... We thought it was worth sharing and we wondered what's next?

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
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After reading the OpenIDEO impact stories book and inspired, we reflected on our own experience as OpenIDEO community members. We realized that we had brought several ideas to life over the last 2 years and thought that this was a story worth sharing as we are passionate about making ideas happen. Our first impact story started with the OpenIDEO impact challenge but ended up including the Youth Employment Challenge, the e-Waste challenge. More deeply, we have been inspired by the OpenIDEO process, hence our decision to post our story for this challenge.

In the Fall of 2012,  Ashwin Gopi and  Lei Niu (2 students and OpenIDEO community members), inspired by an OpenIDEO@University idea posted on the OpenIDEO impact challenge, started the OpenIDEO student chapter (which recently changed its name, but not its values or activities, to Design Tinkering) at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering (“Poly”, to make it short).
In the Spring of 2012, the OpenIDEO student chapter ran its own challenge called “My Vibrant campus”, using the design thinking process that we learnt on OpenIDEO as well as the mix of online and offline interactions. It was inspired by the “ My Vibrant City” challenge, and our goal was to create products, services and spaces to improve the education experience by fostering collaboration. We created  a blog where we invited all students, faculty and administration to post inspirations based on their own lives: about spaces where they work, study or hangout, and why. We received fifty inspirations, on diverse topics, some from across the world.
After this research phase, the members of the OpenIDEO student chapter and their advisor met to analyze the different posts. A few themes emerged but the stronger one was around the notion of a space that would be neither a lounge, nor a library - a space where you could meet, collaborate and share ideas. This was reflected in many of the posts about cafes, how they had a comfortable yet quirky atmosphere that was best-suited for collaborative work.
We therefore decided to run workshops on campus and invited students, faculty and administrators. These workshops confirmed the insights the research provided us and we started ideating with participants on how this space could look and feel like. After a couple of lively ideation sessions, research on space and collaboration, and a lot of sketching, we ended up with a plan and a possible location. Anne-Laure Fayard, advisor to our club and to the Greenhouse, went to the administration with the proposal. We were invited with a group of other students and some administrators to brainstorm further the proposal. Eventually, a plan was agreed upon and the space was given to us.
It was an under-used space that had held very little significance. With a collection of furniture salvaged from different places at NYU, a few whiteboards, and a long table, it emerged as a space with much more potential.  On January 2013, the Greenhouse was open to the student community and defined as a student-led collaborative space.
The greenhouse is not only a space, but it’s also a place with 2 Greenhouse Guardians (currently  Aditya Brahmabhatt and  Yuan Wang), who - similarly to the great OpenIDEO community managers - host the space, organize events and facilitate the cross-pollination of ideas. The Greenhouse turned one at the end of January and its story is a successful one, full of talks, workshops, brainstorming (including  a few openSTORMs run with the OpenIDEO NYC meet up) and collaborations. The Greenhouse has become a repository of resources for students at NYU. It has also been host to a mix of eclectic people from the NYC community, who led workshops throughout the past semester, like the Design Gym and all our Youth café speakers. February was  Prototyping Month at the Greenhouse and different workshops were offered throughout the month all across NYU. Check out our blog to learn more and to see upcoming events.
Because OpenIDEO is always full of great ideas to inspire us, we (the Design Tinkering club and the Greenhouse team) decided to experiment with a winning idea from the challenge on helping young people to succeed in the world of work. Some of us were invited to a prototype the Youth Café at the IDEO NY Office and we thought that it would be a great opportunity for NYU students. So in the spirit of experimentation that we love so much on OpenIDEO, we invited a first series of speakers in the spring 2012: it was a great success, so we continued and it is now the third semester of the Youth Cafes series, where we lately had the pleasure to invite Eric Ho, another OpenIDEO fellowman,  you can learn more here.
Lately, a group of students from Design Tinkering decided to bring to life the  Hacker's Cookbook a winning idea from the e-waste challenge. They just received a small prototyping grant from the  NYU Prototyping Fund to experiment with their idea which along the way has evolved into the Hacker's Kitchen: we're looking forward to seeing their prototypes early May during the Prototyping Fund Showcase. We'll keep you posted! 

September 2014:

We asked "what's next" and promised you some updates. Here are a few:
  • The Hacker's Kitchen Workshop went well and we designed a lot of cool stuff:
  • Women in the Arts (an idea posted on openIDEO by some of the Design Tinkering members) was prototyped and we are now working on developing it (with another name) across all NYU schools with an exhibition at one of NYU galeries in the Spring. More to come!
  • The Youth Cafe series is still ongoing and we are having great hosts this Fall:
  • Over the summer, an Education space startup BetaVersity has created an exclusive collection of videos sponsored by NCIAA, Epicenter at Stanford, and NSF. The series "Making Room for Creativity" features insights from educators and provides a behind-the-scenes look at how university innovation spaces are designed, used and sustained. BetaVersity came on campus but they filmed the space, and interviewed the 2 Greenhouse guardians and Micah. The series features the two Greenhouse guardians in in a couple of the videos and showcases the NYU Greenhouse.   
    Watch a sneak preview 
  • Our "Community Concierge" idea was selected as one of the five winning ideas for the Women Safety challenge. To know more about our next steps, check our Impact story and our blog

Our learnings so far:

  • The power of the design thinking process, which inspired us to start the club and is at the core of all what we are doing

  • Just start by doing something and then iterate: we are often time not completely sure but we just try small and then see how it works. Prototype and don’t ask for permission have become our motto! This applies to everything, from the events we run, to the arrangement of furniture, everything changes.

  • OpenIDEO is a great source of inspiration: the innovation process, the collaborative interactions, but also all the ideas it offers us; all open for any of us to be inspired, give it a try, and make a change in our community. 

The Greenhouse Team and Design Tinkering @NYU

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