For our final week of Summer Institute, our guest lecturers were Meenu and Sarina from the University of Maryland. Meenu and Sarina work together at the Academy of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and teach students how to think outside of the box and bring new, interesting ideas to life!
After the “getting to know you” portion of the group, Meenu began to talk to us about the introduction experience. She had mentioned she was at a conference with a lot of new people, and noticed that all she was given, was a simple name tag to introduce herself. Yes, a name tag can be helpful…people will instantly know your name without having to ask. But that’s all they will know about you.
Sarina mentioned how a conversation can open up if prompted in the right way. For example: Your doctor asks you how many times a week you go to the gym. You can easily and quickly respond by saying “3-4 times a week”. However, your doctor can get a much better answer with more detail, if he asks you to tell him about your last visit to the gym!
Meenu then asked the students to pair up, and tell each other a few of their own introduction experiences, mostly the awkward ones! We had a small group of 4 students that day, so pairing was easy. Here are a few of their stories:
[Ben chose to ask Ian a prewritten question: Tell me about a time you had a ‘meeting new people’ horror story.]
Ian: Once I found I had all my strength in my arm. This is scary for both others and me.
Ben: I’ve been there as well my friend. Once I met someone who talked at me like I was a dog, and also got in my face like they wanted to give me a scratch
Ian: So humiliating. So rude. That is so hard for many of us to face time and time again.
[Tom asked Emma the following question]:
Tom: Tell me about a time someone changed your opinion.
Emma: I think our discussion of autism with Tribe and UVA changed my opinion of NT’s acceptance of us.
Tom: The opinions that I have come from my personal experiences. I believe that there is no excuse for violence in protest. I have never participated in a rally where I have had to face off with haters in person. I saw the events in Charlottesville and I respect the restraint the peaceful protestors showed to not throw punches.
After hearing from each other, the group was then told to come up with two different products, services or experience ideas to help their partners have a better introduction experience. Meenu and Sarina also reminded us that with these ideas, the sky’s the limit! Go crazy! Get creative!
Here’s what everyone came up with:
Tom’s ideas for Emma: Noise cancelling headphones that allow people to hear Emma’s true words even when she needs to scream. Technology that soothes Emma’s body like a blanket that Emma can upload a playlist to. She can share her favorite songs. Music is a great conversation starter.
Emma’s ideas for Tom: First, I would create a window that would allow someone to see who you are inside so they see the real Tom. Then I think would create an empathy hat that lets the wearer feel what it is like to have body brain disconnect.
Ben’s ideas for Ian: The first idea I have for Ian is an automated pair of sunglasses that can sense when someone is attempting to engage Ian in conversation, that can read levels of skepticism as well as trust and comfort and/or fear in an individual. This next idea to help Ian is a little out there- What about a service that coaches people how to handle awkward introductions.
Ian’s ideas for Ben: Have a room for him to lay down in or relax before introducing himself to others. Regulation is key in high stress situations. This is true for neurotypicals too. Send in the techs for my next idea. How about a grand screen to show words as he pokes to letterboard. This is easy to do but helpful.
Wow! We loved every single idea that these guys came up with, and definitely teared up only a little…
Then, with little time left in the group, Meenu and Sarina administered a quick test to students and communication partners!
We didn’t know much about this quiz, except that it felt like a personality test. All we knew was that we had to answer to the best of our ability. Meenu and Sarina did a quick calculation, and by the end of it, we were told to wear a specific color to Summer Institute the next day. Hmmmm, we wondered…
Tom had to wear yellow. Ben had to wear white. Emma had to wear green. Ian had to wear yellow. Janine had to wear yellow. EV, myself, Liz, and Roxy had to wear green.
We later found out that those colors represented what HATS we wore when thinking creatively in a group!
- Green = Creativity, possibility, new ideas, seeking alternatives/concepts
- Yellow = Brightness, optimism, values, benefits, feasibility
- White = Information, facts, what’s known, objective, context
We all agreed with our hat colors!
The next day, we talked about a few different inventions made for several different reasons; The comfortable potato peeler, incubators for newborn babies in Nepal, surgical tools, a bowl that could be held several different ways, the waking up experience. We learned that when people hear the word innovation, they think Eureka! Or the moment when lightning strikes, but innovation is not a one time event. It’s a process to find creative solutions to various problems. The design thinking process is a methodical way to creatively solve problems!
Here is an example of the activity:
When babies are born with a low birth weight, they’re kept in an incubator. In Nepal, a team made easier, low maintenance incubators. When the team visited hospitals where incubators were being used, they found that the incubators in the hospitals were totally empty. But tt wasn’t that there weren’t any low weight babies… and the clinics had sufficient electricity. What was the problem?
The team interviewed the parents and learned that babies were usually born at home, NOT at clinics. The need wasn’t for cheaper, easier incubators, but the need was to keep babies warm. They also had insight that most mothers in labor didn’t have the means to make it to the clinic. So, the team created blue sleeping bags that were easy to clean and kept their babies warm ( we also learned that white in their culture is associated with death!). EMBRACE is now it’s own company! What does this tell you about the process?
Emma: Had to create the right solution for the right problem
Ian: Seeing the direct problem and understanding the culture
DDK: I think there is an element of compassion to solve a completely new problem.
Tom: The process involves being educated about the community it’s supposed to serve.
Ben: Sensing the problem.
The last day of Summer Institute, the group went to the University of Maryland to put all of our great ideas to the test! We all broke out into small groups, 1-2 students and a communication partner, to create a prototype for the inventions they created earlier in the week. We shared out the ideas afterward, and discussed how to give feedback using the phrase “I like…I wish…I wonder”.
For example, “I like the colors you used in your painting. I wish to see more of your personality in it. I wonder if people will understand what you are trying to say.”
This has been especially important to this group – learning how to give feedback!
Take a look at the pictures of our adventure at UMD and the Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship below!
Tom hanging out in the “workshop”!
Ben and Janine creating the prototype for his sunglasses.
Ian and Roxy creating the prototype for his “grand screen” letterboard.
Emma and Meghann creating the prototype for the “Empathy Hat”.
What an incredible experience for all who took part and an amazing way to wrap up our Summer Institute!
Until next time,
~Meghann and The Tribe