Finding the Innovation Academy
“Do your readings, do your essays, study hard. That was university. The Innovation Academy was completely different.”
I heard about the Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability through a friend. I had just finished my undergraduate degree. I knew I wanted to do a Master’s in Urban Planning, but I needed to gain experience in sustainability.
The course was not like anything I’d ever experienced. My undergraduate degree was mostly a hands-off approach. You went to your lectures, you wrote your essays. Everything was the same. The course material was the same, the teaching was the same.
At the Innovation Academy, I worked on a range of different skills from day one.
In the first week, we did a creativity module. Team-building was core to this. I began to realise how important all of these other peripheral skills are in life. Skills like getting a team to work together or building an atmosphere where people feel comfortable to speak up. When I gave presentations during my undergraduate degree I would stutter, I didn’t like speaking in front of the class. We weren’t comfortable presenting and speaking in front of each other. I now feel much more confident after my time at the Innovation Academy.
Looking towards the future
The course helped me to think longer-term as well. I was terrified after graduating from my undergraduate degree. No-one had ever talked to me about CVs, job applications, or job-hunting. I felt like I was thrown to the wolves. In the Innovation Academy, things were broken down for me.
“Our facilitators helped us to navigate the unknown and to understand the process. It made the whole thing seem manageable.”
Considering career options
Before doing the Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability, I thought I had to go one place, in one direction. Now, I have a more open outlook. Hearing the experiences of the facilitators at the Innovation Academy was eye-opening. They had diverse backgrounds and had been through many different phases in their careers. It was so refreshing to talk to people who have been through struggles and come out the other side. Until then, I’d only ever known academics who seemed to always be on an upward trajectory. I could never see that future for myself. No-one from my undergraduate course will have that experience and yet that’s all we see. At the Academy, I met people who had encountered uncertainty and dealt with it. I learned a huge amount from that.
Working with industry partners
My Graduate Diploma course included a ten-week final project. Different industry partners assigned real-life challenges to our teams. We then applied the design thinking methodology we had just learned to come up with real-world proposals.
“I was part of a six-person team for our final project and I got to know that team better than the undergraduate class I’d spent four years with! We came from a range of backgrounds.”
We had a fun, open, blue skies assignment from our industry partner, a real estate investment trust. Over ten weeks we had to come up with a design solution to allow new approaches to sustainability around a specific new development. Through the design thinking process, we realised there was another, more pressing issue the enterprise needed to address, which would in turn affect the problem we had been assigned.
Feeling prepared for the world of work
“We proposed to our industry partner that they create an opening for a community liaison officer. They liked the idea and created the role. In fact, they offered me the position. I got to create the job and now I’m doing it.”
That final project was very important for me. I was able to work through so many nerves that I had about speaking to a client, how to manage projects, how to keep my correspondence in order, and more. It’s a different dynamic when you’re working for a client compared to writing an essay late at night in the library with your friends.
“This year completely changed me from being a student to someone who is ready to take on a career.”