The Big Ydea: Schwarzman Center Thinkathon sparks student creativity

This article was written by Sara Samuel, a Woodbridge Fellow in the Office of the Secretary and Vice President for Student Life.

Nearly 200 students competed in The Big Ydea: Schwarzman Center Thinkathon on Feb. 20. The brainstorming competition brought together students from across the university to see who had the most creative and exciting ideas for the completed Schwarzman Center, a state-of-the-art student center being funded by a $150 million gift from Blackstone founder Stephen A. Schwarzman ‘69.

The gift from Schwarzman not only includes funds for the renovation of the Memorial Hall and Commons, but is also dedicated to programming that will take place in the campus center once it opens in 2020.

Teams competed in three categories: Arts and Performance, Ideas and Opinions, and Social Events and Spaces. In addition to a $1,000 prize for each category winner, students competed for a runner-up prize of $1,500 and a grand prize of $2,500. Brain Food, a collection of healthy snacks, spa water, and granola bars, was on hand to fuel creativity.

The day began with a video introduction from Schwarzman himself, student members of the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee, and the university’s current class of Woodbridge Fellows. After two hours of brainstorming, the first round of judging began. In seven back-to-back presentations, students described their ideas to fellow competitors, who scored their favorites to determine the finalists.

Grand prize winner Steven Koernig (SOM,YSD ’17) was pleased with the format of the event:

“I think it was really cool to do the student judging and walk around and see what other people thought,” said Steven Koernig, a graduate student at the Schools of Management and Drama, and a member of the grand prize-winning team. “Because the ideas were fabulous, it was so much fun to hear what other people were imagining.”

“A lot of good ideas were developed in a short amount of time,” said grand prize runner-up Christopher Datsikas ’16, a member of the team named grand prize runner-up.

Ideas for the Schwarzman Center ranged from Greenspace, a campus center decorated with plants and greenery, to The Kennel, a pub and venue for live music in the basement of the center. Students also proposed day care centers for the children of Yale affiliates, zen spaces free of technology, and even new methods of transportation such as the Schwarzporter, a moving walkway system in the campus center.

 Kay Teo ’16, one of the Thinkathon finalists and a member of the category-winning Team Nineteenth Hole, was struck by the diversity of the ideas and the Thinkathon’s participants. “It was really exciting to see all the student groups represented here.” Her teammate Walden Davis ’16 echoed Teo’s sentiment, saying “I think we had great presentations from a lot of different groups. Very diverse in terms of ideas.”

The winner in the Arts and Performance category was team B&T, which proposed the use of iBeacon technology to incorporate real-time analytics in the operations of the Schwarzman Center. The technology pushes notifications to users’ phones based on proximity to an event or location and can be used to keep track of attendance at an art opening or musical recital.

The Yale College Council team took first place in the Ideas and Opinions category with plans to transform the Presidents Room into a summertime beach getaway to promote mental wellness, combat seasonal affective disorder, and create a relaxing atmosphere.

The Social Events and Spaces category was won by Team Nineteenth Hole, which proposed a modern-day Mory’s for the Schwarzman Center. The team’s vision included a cocktail conveyor belt, a “Looking Glass” interactive table and digital archive, and a “Yale Moments” calendar of university events.

Many of the presentations offered designs for the Schwarzman Center that break barriers between Yale’s schools and bring together all members of the Yale community. The Thinkathon’s runner-up, Yale Makes, proposed putting an adult play space with climbable structures in the Schwarzman Center. Cameron Yick ’17 and Datsikas, the originators of the idea, said that all members of the Yale community would enjoy an indoor playground to alleviate stress, and the playspace could also serve as a central location and activity space for student organizations dedicated to mental health and wellness on campus.

The Thinkathon’s Grand Prize winners were graduate students seeking joint M.B.A. and M.F.A. degrees. The Fourth Wall Street proposed using digital projection mapping to create interdisciplinary works of art that could be projected inside the Schwarzman Center and on the building itself. “The Schwarzman Center itself is a really great opportunity to live up to the mission of uniting Yale around ideas and the arts,” remarked Chiara Klein, who served as the team’s presenter. Chiara and her teammates, Koernig and Gretchen Wrigh,  will share the $2,500 grand prize.

The Big Ydea: Schwarzman Center Thinkathon brought together all parts of campus to generate a number of fantastic ideas for the competed Schwarzman Center, noted President Peter Salovey at the event, “When you want creative ideas, bring Yale people into a room, feed them a lot of coffee and food, and stir. You never know what is going to come out of it.”

Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews said she was pleased with the diversity that was represented in the competition. “There was a really a good mix of undergraduate, graduate, and professional school students on teams and in the room. Every part of Yale was represented.”

To see a total review of the current facilities and more ideas for what the Schwarzman Center could look like, read the report issued by the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee.

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