Co-creation, ideation, growth-mindset, design-thinking... Are we speaking the same language here?

Before taking the International Development and Design Thinking course, I only had a marginal idea of what these words meant. I will admit it was a little embarrassing for me, as I was a senior coming into my last international development course and having spent two summers conducting field research in Ghana, so I wasn’t sure what I expected from the course and what I hoped to learn. Little did I know that these same words and concepts would give me a framework to talk about how I view the world and a foundation to “design” my life going forward.

By taking this course, which has proven itself to be one of the most hands-on and practical classes I have taken so far at the University of Notre Dame, it has allowed me to understand how everyone can apply design-thinking concepts to not only global, societal development topics but also in the mundane, routine aspects of our daily lives.

When I first joined the course and looked at the syllabus, I felt a little lost in the design-based jargon. I didn’t know how I could engage in the conversation given that I have never done this type of work before nor felt that I was a creative person. However, as the class progressed,  I quickly realized that the core principles which guided the design-thinking class were the same principles that I’ve used throughout my life to view and interact with the world. I have always approached challenges and topics from an angle of curiosity and bewilderment, and I embraced failures and shortcomings as insightful learning opportunities to how I can improve. I just didn’t know there was a word for this same perspective until we did the class called Growth Mindset: a mindset that views our skills and talents as dynamic, and that they can be ever-improved upon through hard work, feedback and input from others, and from our personal experiences of failures and successes.

This spirit of peer mentorship, continuous feedback to refine our skills, and mutual growth was embodied in the relationships in the course between my classmates and also with my mentor, Jenna Ahn, who has previously taken the course four years ago. On our first meeting, I told Jenna about I am learning things about myself that I never really thought about or revisited since I was a child in elementary school. How can I learn and view challenges in life? How I can be creative and express my creativity?  How can I work well and communicate with others?

These were all topics which shape my daily interactions and worldview, yet I haven’t really studied these topics in an academic manner such as exploring Tom and David Kelley's Creative Confidence to nurture our innate creativity or  Chip and Dan Health's anecdotes on how to work with others to find solutions to complex problems.

Jenna and I joked that these were “academic-adult works” which essentially engaged with childhood topics that everyone knew about growing up. As opposed to the calculus or organic chemistry courses I took as a pre-medical student, this class does not require prior knowledge because it draws on the universal aspects of our humanity. It asks questions that are rooted in our everyday experiences as a human being, which is why this topic so approachable to everyone.

And that is the beauty of this course. It allows people to interact with these principles whether they are from different disciplines, ages, and cultures because it revisits topics that are universal. The inviting nature of it has allowed me to find the relevance of how “design” can fit into my own life. I’ve found my experience in the course to allude to the bigger message of the potential of development: the underlying, transcending ability to unite all human beings regardless of geo-political and social distinctions.