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72 Hours of Innovation: Design Boot Camp

No two words together tell a narrative about an experience quite like boot camp. As an incoming Master of Product Innovation student for the 2015 fall semester, eleven graduate students and myself just completed this three-day indoctrination last week. Having completed the US Army’s boot camp once upon a time, and now VCU’s Product Innovation boot camp, I can say with certainty that the two share one common theme, immersion.

For starters, day one was more like two days. This twelve-hour day started with more than nametags and handshakes, it began with introductions to the people you’re likely to see more of than most for the next two years. And at the helm of this eclectic mix of philosophers, engineers and business professionals was our navigator, Joe Cipolla. Joe not only introduced the program, but he began to give us our first glimpse of how this group of diverse grad students would use art, business and engineering to establish a product innovation foundation. Although product design began right away with Dr. Jean Gasen, what we were really discovering was collaboration styles among classmates. Not just forming impressions, but how each of us approached a problem. Before any of us could realize that we were learning laughing yoga techniques, Dr. Gasen encouraged us to challenge our assumptions of innovation.

As this immersive day continued, we were suddenly thrust into describing sensory perceptions of art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. We followed this expressive experience with a no holds barred debate and art scavenger hunt. Now that we were fairly confident we knew our classmate’s names, we got a glimpse into who among them were the most competitive! As the afternoon set in with my new MPI family, we were whisked off to Richmond’s Visual Arts Center where we learned first hand that art is a verb. Between the screen-printing, line drawing class and pottery, where we got more than a little clay under our nails, my classmates and I were learning firsthand the role art would play in our curriculum. The day concluded with something nearly all of this incoming class could relate to, local food & beer. As we laughed over suds and nachos at Home Team Grill with Joe Cipolla and Ken Kahn, I think we all agreed on one thing, if this was the first day- it was going to be an amazing experience.

Day two and three furthered this hands-on product innovation boot camp with designing prototypes at the Science Museum of Virginia to learning how machinist turn raw steel into beautifully thought-out objects at Tectonics Design Group. While being educated on how Sabra Dipping Co.’s R & D team finds the intersection of innovation and hummus, I think we each ate our body weight in chickpeas. And what is a new MPI student to do next with all of these new innovative ideas? Learn how to present them of course from two of the very best, Professor Aaron Anderson & David Leong.

Over the weekend, someone asked me “…how was the boot camp?” As I looked back over those three intense days, and all the warm smiling faces of the second year MPI students & faculty at our closing reception, the only answer I could come up with was, “I’ll let you know.” The design boot camp isn’t about three days and whetting your appetite for product innovation. It’s about immersion. It’s about design thinking and the notion that this graduate program is going to change the way we think about everything.


Post Written by Blue Crump, Current MPI Student

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