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Author's profile photo Heather Matthews

Student Design Thinking Jam – First in U.S.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Student Design Thinking Jam

On February 23, 2013 forty-seven undergraduate and graduate students representing seven universities overcame a Midwest snowstorm to join SAP in the first “SAP Student Design Thinking Jam” in the United States.  The session was led by Design Thinking experts within SAP’s Service Innovation and Business Transformation teams.  When we began at 9am, the room was quiet as everyone settled in.  By the end of the day there was an incredible level of excitement and engagement (and noise!).  In the morning the walls were bare.  By 4pm every available inch of wall space was covered with post-its, drawings – creativity!  Tables were covered with all the tools students used to help them come up with creative ideas and explore them further. 

Students were assigned to teams to ensure that each team had:  several universities represented, a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, and where possible a variety of degree programs to ensure an interesting combination of experience and perspectives.  As soon as the event kicked off, students on each team got to know one another and began to develop the ‘design thinking mindset’.


Deepa Iyer introduced the Design Thinking methodology to the audience.  Throughout the day students were guided through six of the seven steps of the approach:  Scoping, 360 Degree Research, Synthesis, Ideate, Prototype and Validate.  The design challenge was to create a concept to “gamify education.”  It was up to each of the 11 teams to define what that meant by sharing their ideas, questions, pain points and so on.  In a typical design thinking project, teams would then interview end-users, observe processes, conduct research and so on.  In our scenarios students interviewed other students to understand their unique perspective and needs.  Teams synthesized the ideas they collected, looked for themes and patterns.  Each team created a persona that represented the end user (helps to put a face on otherwise abstract data), the point of view and the scenario.  The ideation phase was next, with teams imagining / brainstorming the many possibilities to solve the defined problem.  Ideation is a very visual, creative and non-judgmental process.  Students embraced it! 


Every minute of the day was busy, so before we knew it the teams moved on to prototyping.  Students used techniques such as storyboarding, role playing, and/or mockups to share their idea.  Each team had 5 minutes to present their prototype to the other student teams and a panel of five judges.  All 11 teams had creative solutions to the “gamify education” design challenge and did an outstanding job developing and sharing their ideas.  It was difficult to choose, but in the end the top three teams were selected, with the top two being asked to share their prototype and experience with professors participating in the co-located SAP Academic Conference. 


First Place:  “Missile Fighters” solution

  • Brandon Bronkhorst, Grand Valley State University
  • Carlos Salgado, Northern Illinois University
  • Joseph, Helou, Indiana University
  • Sabarie Mohhan,  University of Illinois – Chicago

Second Place:  “Learning Download Library” solution

  • Anuj Vohra, University of Illinois – Chicago
  • Max Weiss, Indiana University
  • Vatsal Nidhi, University of Illinois – Chicago
  • Zachary Christopherson, University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire

Third Place:  “Holo Deck” solution

  • David Cooper, Grand Valley State University
  • Michael Thomas, Youngstown State University
  • Missy Scherkenbach, University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire
  • Muhammad Zia Khan, University of Illinois – Chicago
  • Yash Rasania, University of Illinois – Chicago



Seven universities sent teams to the Student Design Thinking Jam.  I thank each campus for your support!  Those universities are: 

  • Grand Valley State University
  • Indiana University
  • Northern Illinois University
  • University of Illinois – Chicago
  • University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire
  • University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
  • Youngstown State University

SAP’s Service Innovation and Business Transformation teams did an outstanding job introducing the Design Thinking methodology and coaching our teams.  I would like to give a special “thank you” to our coaches:  Deepa Iyer, Carsten Boekholt, Tim Hornung, Tammy Johnson, Mike Lakvold and Scott Latchaw.

Participants gave us lots of feedback on our event.  It was overwhelmingly positive – so the University Alliances team in North America will begin to look for other opportunities to offer similar Design Thinking Jams across the U.S. and Canada.  We’ll incorporate their “I wish …” ideas where we can.

I included a few pictures here, but many more are on Facebook – check them out!  Event content is available (here).  Details from the original event invitation and resources is available (here).

About Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a new way of solving business and technology problems.  It puts the end user into the middle of the design process to collaboratively identify problems and creatively find solutions.  By participating in the SAP Student Design Thinking Jam, students experienced how the world’s most successful companies…those that are growing and hiring college graduates… drive rapid innovation and improve customer experiences.

To learn more, we encourage you to explore the following resources which introduce the concepts of Design Thinking:

  • Introductory resources and blog
  • Design Thinking video produced by SAP (2:33)
  • Design Thinking Product Innovation, 60 Minutes interview with David Kelly (13:14)
  • Reading List,, Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University

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