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Duke Students Design Innovative Solutions to Wellness Challenges

Duke students want to improve how they deal with stress and time-management challenges, and they sometimes struggle to navigate the many resources available to them—so agreed the student groups who presented at the recent Open Design Sprint for Transformative Health and Wellness at Duke, organized by Duke Student Affairs, Duke’s Office of Undergraduate Education, and Open Design Studio, a partnership between Bass Connections and Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E).

Yet the students were enthusiastic and optimistic about the potential for solutions founded on community building and improved communication. Working in teams over three weeks, groups identified health and wellness challenges at Duke and created solutions using open design, an innovation methodology rooted in active inclusivity, transparency, and collaboration. Their solutions were informed by deep user research—interviews, discussions, and concept feedback sessions with fellow students—to better understand the challenges.

In a culminating pitch event open to the Duke community, teams gathered feedback to inform further testing and iteration on their solutions. Team members and staff/faculty guests spent time following the presentations discussing points for further exploration, opportunities to integrate with existing resources, and synchronicities among teams.

“My favorite part about the sprint was that I got to be in a room with peers who share a common passion for design thinking,” said Melinda Guo ’23. “It was refreshing to feel like I was a part of a small community of passionate problem solvers. This opportunity also allowed me to meet mentors, and I loved that we were able to actually pitch our ideas and receive feedback.”

Led by Emily Ford ’24, one group focused on how to incentivize students to visit the gym to promote physical wellness. Their solution? To make students more comfortable and accountable in their workouts by coordinating their visits with other members of clubs they belong to.

Guo, Aarushi Venkatakrishnan ’23, and Francesca Ramos ’23 presented SWell: Student Wellness, their solution to the same problem of students neglecting their physical health. SWell, a wellness app, would encourage students to participate in weekly campus-wide challenges to unlock collective rewards for the entire student body; the app would also allow people to set personal challenges for themselves and remain anonymous.

A third group, Wellness@Duke, tackled the problem of lack of awareness surrounding the many wellness resources available to Duke students, along with the costs associated with some resources. The group—Jadyn Cleary ’24, Elizabeth Barton ’24, and Noelle Garrick ’24—pitched a mobile-friendly website specifically designed to show student users the most relevant wellness resources.

“I was inspired by the depth of what students learned and accomplished in such a short period of time,” said Aria Chernik, co-founder of Open Design Studio and associate professor of the practice at the Social Science Research Institute and Duke I&E. “Students volunteered their time and energy to the wellness sprint not for academic credit, but because they genuinely care about innovating new solutions to wellness challenges. This speaks to how problem-based learning can be an authentic driver for student engagement.”

Kevin Hoch, co-founder of Open Design Studio and managing director for education at Duke I&E, said, “Often students feel their voices are not heard when it comes to institutional change. This sprint put students at the center of imagining a healthier Duke community, to where they elevated both their own experiences and the voices of their community.”

Landy Elliott, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education and a guest panelist at the pitch event, explained that the Open Design Sprint was the first step in piloting an incubator for transformative health and wellness interventions for undergraduates at Duke.

“We know that students have no shortage of great ideas that stem from their lived experience,” Elliott said. “Where we need to build our capacity is in supporting students in bringing their concepts to reality in sustainable and scalable ways. We are excited to partner with the Open Design Studio and with teams who wish to continue developing their ideas by providing coaching, resources, and other support to nurture and grow their innovations.”

“I appreciate how supportive and trusting Duke administration has been with our ideas,” Guo said. “My group is planning to continue iterating on our design solution and eventually implement it on campus.”

The Open Design Sprint for Transformative Health and Wellness at Duke was made possible by the generous support of Stacey (P’22/’24) and Dan (T’79/P’22/P’24) Levitan.

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