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Students Put Design Thinking to Use with Voters

To learn about an upcoming school bond proposal, high school business students are zeroing in on their neighbors by using the Design Thinking process.

Challenged to work on something real in their own community, students in teacher Jon Bushen’s Business Marketing Management class needed to determine the needs and desires of voters, said Skylar Pichey, co-president and marketing director for the class. She and classmates each interviewed three neighbors by going door-to-door to hear their thoughts on the 18-year extension up for vote Tuesday Nov. 7. The request, if approved, would generate $79.5 million for district-wide facility improvements without raising the tax rate.

Related Story: Wyoming Bond Vote Would Upgrade 50-Year-old Facilities – Voters will consider a bond proposal Tuesday, Nov. 7 that, without raising property owners’ current tax rate, would fund $79.5 million in district-wide improvements. This includes $40 million in high school renovations. If passed, the proposal would extend the current levy for 18 years…

Stages of Design Thinking

Empathize: Conduct research in order to develop knowledge about what your users do, say, think, and feel. Conduct research in order to develop knowledge about what your users do, say, think, and feel.
Ideate: Brainstorm a range of crazy, creative ideas that address the unmet user needs identified in the define phase.
Prototype: Build real, tactile representations for a subset of your ideas. The goal of this phase is to understand what components of your ideas work, and which do not.
Test: Return to your users for feedback. Ask yourself ‘Does this solution meet users’ needs?’ and ‘Has it improved how they feel, think, or do their tasks?’
Implement: Put the vision into effect. Ensure that your solution is materialized and touches the lives of your end users.

Source: Nielson Norman Group

Part of design thinking is empathizing, getting to know what your users — in this case, voters– do, say think and feel. It’s an interesting process, Pichey said. Neighbors expressed support, indifference and some negativity when asked for their thoughts on the bond. Students wrote voter ideas and comments on sticky notes to capture what each person said. “We put them all together to examine their insights,” she said.

Teacher Jon Bushen attended a training on Design Thinking in the classroom offered by the the Kent ISD Career Readiness Department last summer. He plans to use it in several ways this school year, but started with the bond, an issue that affects his students directly. Now they have the chance to offer an important student voice in the bond process, Bushen said.

“Most of the students didn’t really know what the bond entailed in depth, so they had to sit with (Superintendent Thomas Reeder) and (Matt Lewis, assistant superintendent for finance and administrative services) and really ask the questions.”

Design Thinking involves creating a plan based on what you’ve learned about your user, and students are reaching out with information to voters. They passed out information and wristbands at the Homecoming Carnival; they are encouraging students who are old enough to vote with the incentive of free pizza if they head to the polls; they handed on Trick or Treat bags with bond information at the school’s Halloween Trunk or Treat event.

Skylar said she’s had to be straight-forward with people that passing the bond is personal to her. “You really have to make it seem like, ‘I really want this to pass. It’s very important to me.'”

Business student Chyna Johnson Pruitt helped pass out Trunk or Treat bags with bond information on the front

Hoping for a ‘Yes”

Skylar said she believes they are having an impact. Neighbors who first said they didn’t see a reason to vote, seemed to listen.

“I think the school really needs this,” Skylar said, pointing out the crammed hallways and poor climate control. “People look down on us because we don’t have money, because we aren’t Grandville and we aren’t Hudsonville (public schools) but we could be that way.”

Business student Albert Zamarripa said using the design-thinking process showed him it’s not simple to assess the community’s perspectives, and that’s taught him a lot about marketing.

“It’s been a great experience to have this as a project. I’ve never been a part of anything about this. To know you did something for this, it just makes you feel that much better.”


Example of District-wide Design Thinking

2017 Bond Information

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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