Design thinking has always been an integral part of the Elon University experience; we just didn’t always know what to call it.

Elon faculty and staff have pursued design-related research, curriculum, and activities daily across campus: in classrooms, studios, and even the Maker Hub. Elon 101 professors as well as Entrepreneurship faculty had begun to incorporate design patterns into curriculums, and four faculty members worked long hours to deliver the Design Studio for Social Innovation, a 16-unit, team-taught course offered in a studio environment.

Seeing this emerging pattern, Provost Steven House called a committee of deans, students and faculty members to investigate the potential directions for the initiative. Those efforts drew the attention of Trustee Cindy Citrone and led to a gift from her and her husband Rob to launch Elon By Design, the original design-thinking program initially led by Dawan Stanford. In 2019, Danielle Lake joined Elon as the Director of Design Thinking, leading Elon by Design and the Center for Design Thinking.

Click to view to 2020-2021 Annual Report

Elon By Design aims to 1) create opportunities for the Elon community to build the confidence and ability to identify design challenges and respond to them with design thinking processes and methods, and 2) generate ways for faculty and staff to explore how design thinking might support teaching, scholarship, and service at Elon. The aim of the Center for Design Thinking is engaging faculty, students, and staff across the university as part of a seven-element strategy:

  • Designing the initiative with students, faculty, and staff
  • Cultivating design thinking expressions at Elon
  • Applying design to expressing Elon traditions and developing our future
  • Bringing the best of design to Elon and our community
  • Design conversations at Elon and beyond to inform the initiative
  • Delivering design events, workshops, projects, experiences, and experiments contributing to the future of design in higher education

Elon by Design is an evolving system for consistent actions in and between these seven areas both guided and utilized by Elon students, faculty, and staff.


Learn more about our mission.



Elon By Design’s work across the university and beyond ensures that Elon students, faculty, and staff have the ability and confidence to respond to wicked problems with design thinking processes, methods and mindsets as they shape purposeful, impactful lives.

Experiential Learning

Elon journeys include practical design thinking learning opportunities, university services shaped by design thinking, and design-thinking influenced workshops, programs, courses, research opportunities, internships.


Real World Projects

Elon By Design is supporting and enhancing a cross-sector, global practitioner network with projects where students develop design thinking skills and Elon By Design actively participates in evolving design practice.

Danielle Lake

Director of Design Thinking, and Associate Professor


Danielle Lake has over ten years of experience creating implementing, and assessing innovative curricula designed to build student and community-capacity for addressing wicked problems. This experience has positioned her well to continue her work as an institutional leader, cross-campus consultant, and teacher-scholar of civic engagement.

With a Ph.D. in philosophy, her teaching and scholarship interests bridge Design Thinking and wicked problems research with the public engagement movement. Prior courses include “Design Thinking to Meet Real World Needs,” “Wicked Problems of Sustainability,” “Dialogue, Integration, and Action,” and “Reflect, Connect, Engage.”

As the former coordinator of the award-winning Accelerated Leadership Program and research lead for ten engaged department initiatives across three institutions, she also has leadership experience creating and assessing collaborative and innovative engagement projects that span curricular programs and bridge the university-community divide.

Lake received Early Career Recognition from the International Association of the Research on Service Learning and Community Engagement in 2018, the John Saltmarsh Award for Emerging Leaders in Civic Engagement from the American Democracy Project in 2017, the John Lachs Award for Public Philosophy in 2016, and the Jane Addams Prize from the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy in 2014.

Lake is coeditor of the book series, Higher Education and Civic Democratic Engagement: Exploring Impact, with Peter Lang Publishing. She is currently interested in exploring the long-term impact of design thinking practices and pedagogies of resilience. Recent publications can be found at http://works.bepress.com/danielle_lake/

Lake is committed to partnering with students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding Elon community in order to support design thinking initiatives.

Dr. Tracey Thurnes


Elon’s Design Thinking Curricular Catalyst is a faculty member who supports the infusion of Design Thinking pedagogies across Elon curriculum.  The Curricular Catalyst advances Design Thinking curricular initiatives through facilitating communities of practice, consulting with faculty, and by providing resources for infusing Design Thinking methods and processes into curriculum.


Creating opportunities to increase faculty experience, confidence, and competence in implementing high impact practices rooted in Design Thinking across all disciplines.


The curricular catalyst serves as a connector for faculty across the university who want to increase students’ capacity for experiential learning with design thinking processes and methods. The curricular catalyst also works closely with the Director to design and facilitate communities of practice around design thinking pedagogies that develop collaborative relationships with faculty members interested in design thinking.


Dr. Tracey Thurnes is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies. She has worked closely with the Center for Design Thinking to apply design thinking processes and methods within the health sciences in both the undergraduate and graduate student populations. Her work focuses on applying design thinking concepts to develop critical thinking skills and leadership and professional competencies to positively impact learning outcomes to create solutions-oriented graduates.

Tyson Glover ’17


Elon’s Design Thinking Co-Curricular Catalyst is a faculty or staff member that creates, supports, and celebrates co-curricular design thinking experiences, events, and initiatives. The Co-Curricular Catalyst works as an ambassador with the Elon community to support Design Thinking initiatives. Assisting in connecting students, faculty, and staff to relevant resources offered in the center for Design Thinking.


Creating extra-curricular opportunities for Elon students, faculty and staff to gain the confidence and ability to apply design thinking’s process, methods and mindset to challenges.


The CCC designs, supports, and facilitates co-curricular design thinking experiences intended for Elon and surrounding communities. The CCC assists the Director and other Catalysts in achieving the Elon by Design Mission. This includes:

  • Developing expertise and leading (both creating and facilitating) 4-6 extra-curricular design thinking experiences throughout the academic year.
  • Serving as a design thinking ambassador to Elon students, faculty, staff, and community members; attending design events whenever possible.
  • Providing mentorship to one or more student catalyst and guidance to the Director in relationship to the CCC initiatives, meeting with the director and/or student catalysts weekly/bi-weekly.

Tyson Glover ’17 was among the first students to graduate from the Design Thinking Studio in Social Innovation. He is a passionate and enthusiastic advocate for the Design Thinking process and social innovation. Tyson is a co-founder of the organization Phoenix Flops, a proud Elon alumnus, and founder of the local start-up Food Drivers. He is eager to connect, create, and collaborate with Elon as the Co-Curricular Catalyst.

Dr. Wen Guo


Elon’s Design Thinking Research Catalyst is a faculty member who engages in, supports, and advances the critical study of design thinking. In addition to engaging in their own DT studies, the research catalyst also supports and advances the research accomplishments of Elon faculty, students, and staff across internal and external academic communities.


Creating research opportunities for Elon students, faculty and staff to gain the experience, confidence, and competence to apply design thinking’s process, methods and mindsets to challenges.


The research catalyst 1) offers mentorship, training, and guidance to help students develop research skills and ideas inspired by design thinking across disciplines; 2) works with the director of the Center to study design thinking practices and innovation in higher education; 3)  develops collaborative relationships and research opportunities with faculty members interested in design thinking.


Dr. Wen Guo is an Assistant Professor of Art Administration in the Department of Art. She worked closely with Dr. Danielle Lake on mentoring students’ research on design thinking in the summer of 2020.  She studies the application of design thinking in arts administration education. She intensively infuses design thinking and entrepreneurship into an accessible teaching model for undergraduate students in artistic disciplines for their professional career preparation. She currently serves as a board member of the American Journal of Arts Management.


Elon By Design is housed in the Elon University Center for Design Thinking and operates across the entire university. The Center is a flexible design studio connected to an industrial-grade maker space. Classes, workshops, events, experiences and conversations about design thinking at Elon happen here. Learn more about our amazing spaces here!

The Center Layout:

Interior space of the Design Thinking Center.

Center for Design Thinking
Elon Town Center
103 W. College Ave.
Elon, NC 27244