Center for Design Thinking catalyst brings improv to human service studies

The Center for Design Thinking and the Department of Human Service Studies prepares students for the unexpected through Improvisation and design.

When Alyssa Alpaugh ’25 found the opportunity to combine her passion for improv with her work at the Center for Design Thinking, she said, “Yes, and!” — a rule of thumb in improv for building upon what another improviser has offered.

Alpaugh has been with Elon University’s Center for Design Thinking since the beginning of the 2022-23 academic year and represents the center at College Coffee every week.

One week at College Coffee in September, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Human Service Studies Judy Esposito spoke with Alpaugh about consulting and custom workshop opportunities that the center offers. Both wanted to incorporate improv into their work.

The two quickly brought the Director of Design Thinking Danielle Lake, Human Services Assistant Professor Jessica Navarro and student catalyst Autumn Goyette ’24 on board to generate and prototype the next steps.

The team collaborated on the customized improv workshop for two human service studies courses: HSS 4120 Advanced Theories and HSS 2120 Counseling Individuals and Families. Both Alpaugh and Goyette facilitated the first two sessions of the workshop for 30 motivated students.

The workshop guides students through improv exercises, case studies and design thinking methods in order to stretch their mental and emotional flexibility and therapeutic presence, giving them practice toward their future careers.

“This is a workshop based around the idea that human service studies providers really benefit from improvisation. People who are therapists and social workers need to be able to think on their feet and improv is great training for that,” Goyette said.

Making connections through improv is one of Alpaugh’s deepest passions. Before transferring to Elon, Alpaugh was the president of her school’s theater group. She loved to watch the members of the theater group build connections and become more confident over time.

“I see improv as a way to help them feel more prepared for the unexpected,” Alpaugh said.

The Center for Design Thinking is excited to continue to support faculty, staff and students across campus to meet diverse curricular, professional and community goals. For more information and to request a consultation or custom workshop simply visit the Elon by Design website’s Contact Us page.