Elon University is enhancing its nationally recognized, high-impact teaching and learning with support of a philanthropic investment from trustee Cindy Citrone and her husband, Rob, of Southport, Connecticut, who are the parents of an Elon alumna. The announcement was made Sept. 21, 2016 at the annual Evening for Elon event for alumni, parents and friends in New York City.

The support from the Citrones will fund innovative new efforts to integrate design thinking into curricular and co-curricular experiences across the campus. Design thinking is a creative, solutions-generating process that starts with understanding real issues in real contexts. It then focuses on generating and testing solutions by encouraging creativity, teamwork, collaboration across many disciplines, experimentation and learning from failures. This innovative process is gaining attention in business and education, including a pioneering program at Stanford University.

“Design thinking is a perfect fit with the way Elon approaches higher education,” said Steven House, provost and executive vice president. “For more than 20 years, Elon has been a pioneer in helping students learn through experiences, with hands-on teaching methods in classes and a suite of co-curricular programs called the Elon Experiences – study abroad, internships, research, service and leadership. Design thinking is a logical next step as we evolve our highly engaged style of teaching and learning.”

Cindy Citrone said design thinking capitalizes on Elon’s expertise in graduating young people who are ready to take on the challenges of our world today – challenges that are constantly changing. “We are so excited to be bringing design thinking to Elon, where we are confident it will thrive,” Citrone said. “This isn’t a gift, this is an investment – an investment that we are ready for … a sure thing.”

According to House, Elon aims to develop a unique opportunity for its students by integrating design thinking into curricular and co-curricular programs across all four years of study and available to all students across all majors.

At the very start of their experiences, students may be part of Elon 101 courses – “Designing Your Way Forward” – that approach the “wicked problem” of creating one’s college and life paths through design thinking. Beyond their first year, students may elect to enroll in an immersive semester experience – four seamlessly integrated courses offered as a single cohorted experience – that utilizes design thinking approaches to generate solutions for local community issues and challenges. The first such immersive semester – “Design Thinking Studio in Social Innovation” – was offered in spring 2017. Students work with the Alamance County Wellness Collaborative to explore issues related to general wellness in the community.

Students will also gain increased access to pop-up courses surrounding and arising out of innovative programs across the campus, including the immersive semester experience and Elon’s already thriving entrepreneurship program.

Additional new opportunities that integrate design thinking are in the early stages of exploration and development, including linked Core curriculum courses, small seminars and a Summer Innovation Lab that is designed to create opportunities for teams of students across disciplines to work with a faculty mentor over the summer on a client-based problem utilizing design thinking approaches.

To support these initiatives, Elon will establish Design Thinking Centers in at least three campus locations over the next few years. These innovative learning spaces will provide creative, inspirational and highly flexible environments to support collaboration among students, faculty and staff. One of the spaces will be in the new Richard W. Sankey Hall, a 30,000-square-foot facility being planned as an expansion of the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business.

Elon hired Dawan Stanford as the founding director of its design thinking initiative in February. Stanford is supporting and advancing early efforts, facilitating the development of new connections and opportunities, leading faculty and staff development in support of this work and advancing student engagement in design thinking across campus.