When I joined the Design Thinking Studio, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t super excited to learn that we would fulfill many of the requirements I needed to graduate, one of them being our CORE Capstone Project. While I knew I would need to complete one eventually, it wasn’t on my radar until I realized that to graduate on time, I would need to complete one. I was overjoyed to be checking this box off my life, but unprepared for the method of completion: creating our own CORE Capstone Project. The following blog post details my experience crafting and planning my own CORE Capstone Project. My hope in writing this is that future cohorts will read and learn from my experience, and use the advice I provide to craft their own capstone projects.
I entered the Design Thinking Studio all bright eyed and bushy tailed––I truly did not know what to expect. The first day––name tag challenge prototype day––was incredibly fun. The following week(s) were a bit strange for me. What I mean by this is that I felt out of my element. As someone who has sort of figured this whole school thing out, I was missing the four class structure and being told exactly what to do. I was caught off guard by all of the fun we were having, information we were learning, and the freedom we were given. I wasn’t used to a three hour class that met five days a week, and I certainly wasn’t used to playing games in class. While I was uncomfortable, I am so glad I decided to stick it out, because this semester turned out to be the best semester I have had at Elon. All that aside, I would like to encourage you all to stick with it, even if you’re uncomfortable, nervous, or anxious like I was. I promise, Design Thinking will become second nature and you will not regret a single moment.
My first piece of advice for you is don’t choose your topic right away. Instead, give it some time and let it come to you. Let it be something that interests you, but also feels a bit out of your comfort zone––I will explain the importance of this later in the post. Early on we were told to keep any ideas regarding our CORE Capstone Projects in the back of our minds. “Keep brainstorming,” RPR would tell us, “Don’t worry about finalizing or choosing yet, you still have time.” This made me anxious. I wanted to have an idea nailed down so I could start what I thought was going to be an insane amount of research and work. I am a Sociology major who is incredibly passionate about many social issues including racial injustice and equality, gender equality, and social health. Initially, I mentally decided that I was going to do a project on race in Alamance County and craft a twenty page research paper, something I had done many times before. This was something I was incredibly comfortable with, but looking back now, it is amazing to see how different my final project was from my first thoughts and plans, but I am so glad it is!
My next piece of advice is draw from the information around you. Use what you’ve learned about Alamance County to your benefit and to help you decide on a topic. After weeks of that little anxious voice in my head telling me I needed to pick a topic, I was lucky enough to stumble upon my topic. During my time in the Studio, I shadowed Kathy Colville, Director of Healthy Communities at Cone Health. At many of the meetings I joined her at, the discussion turned to mental health. At one of the meetings in particular, there was discussion of a program taking place in Alamance County called the “Stepping Up Task Force.” The Task Force was put in place to address a major mental health problem taking place: individuals experiencing a mental health crisis were being taken to prison or the Emergency Room, and not receiving the treatment they needed. As a result, a coalition of members from all different department and sectors of the community were tasked with collaborating to solve the problem. As a result, a diversion center is opening in Alamance County. Instead of going to the ER or jail, individuals will be taken to the diversion center and receive the help and services they need. I was told that the Stepping Up Task Force would be meeting during the semester, and decide to attend the meeting.
My third piece of advice is to talk to people and make personal connections. After the Stepping Up Task Force meeting, I approached several professionals in the mental health world including Robin Huffman (Executive Director of the NC Psychiatric Association), Linda Allison (Project Coordinator, Alamance County Steps Up, Alamance County Sheriff’s Office), Gary Andler (Project Coordinator, Alamance County Steps Up, Alamance County Sheriff’s Office), Ric Bruton (Senior Community Executive, Cardinal Innovations). I collected each person’s business card in the hopes of setting up meetings with each. I successfully met with Ric Bruton, and Gary Andler and Linda Allison. At both meetings I came equip with a list of questions to guide our discussion. The point of each meeting was to gain a deeper understanding of what was being done and discussed regarding mental health in Alamance County. It was after both meetings that I finally figured out what I was going to do for my CORE Capstone Project.
On April 4th, about a month before the end of the semester, I decided I wanted to host an event for my CORE Capstone Project. Specifically, I wanted to host a screening of the documentary Resilience at Elon University. The film discusses the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACEs). Essentially, there are certain childhood traumatic experiences, such as witnesses domestic violence or living in a neighborhood where you can hear gunshots, that can contribute to negative health outcomes in the future, including higher risk for substance use and abuse. The film discusses what we can do to prevent this from happening, how adults who have experienced these traumas are coping, and decreasing the stigma surrounding these surprisingly common events. As someone who has experienced some of these traumas, and knows many others who have as well, this film is close to my heart. I immediately walked up to the facilitators, Melea Rose-Waters (Parent and Community Engagement Manager, Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina) and Julie Budd (Volunteer/Outreach Coordinator, CrossRoads Sexual Assault Response & Resource Center and Child Advocacy Center). I gathered their contact information and was able to discuss my plans for the event further on the telephone.
My next piece of advice is do not be afraid to reach out to anyone, no matter who they are or how shy you are. After my phone call with Julie Budd, I set up a meeting with Dean Jana Lynn Patterson and Dr. Marie Shaw (Director of Counseling Services). We discussed whether or not the University would support an event like mine and what needed to be done from a logistical standpoint. Dr. Shaw even agreed to support and help me throughout the entire process. I left the meeting feeling invigorated and excited for the next steps.
Next, I set up a meeting with Madison Taylor (Development Writer, University Advancement, Elon University & Planning Committee for Community Connections). We met at Oak House. He mentioned his connection to something called Community Connections and explained that they are a campus and Alamance County community forum that focuses on a couple of key issues a year for discussion at Elon. He added that previous topics have included health care, racism, poverty, domestic violence, and education funding, and that my event was one of interest to him. He added that he would discuss my event with the other planners including Rich Jackson (the editor of the Times-News), Brooke Barnett, Jon Dooley, Tom Arcaro and Naeemah Clark. Additionally, we discussed implementing a panel discussion following the film, instead of hosting a facilitated discussion. Julie Budd and Dr. Marie Shaw (Director of Counseling Services) have both agreed to serve on the panel.
My final piece of advice is don’t skimp on the details. Much of my planning experience has forced me to really focus on the details. During consecutive meetings with Dean Patterson and Dr. Shaw, I discussed what the budget might look like, how I might market the event, which departments we might contact to spread the word, what snacks we would serve at during the screening, and what the flyer would look like. While these details may seem minor, they are incredibly important for the success of the event.
I hope this letter finds you well. As I write this, I am in the finishing stages of completing my CORE Capstone Project. As someone who is in the homestretch, and will have completed this event long before you read this, I can say you’re doing great! As you can see, the process has been a long one, but such a valuable and interesting experience. I was able to take everything I learned during my time at Elon and during my time in the Design Thinking Studio, and run with it. So in closing, I want to remind you not to panic. Do not choose your topic right away. Draw from the information around you. Talk to people and make personal connections. Do not be afraid to reach out to anyone, no matter who they are or how shy you are, because there is nothing wrong with extra help. Finally, don’t skimp on the details, no matter how miniscule. I promise you’ll thank yourself.
Written by: Katherine Evans