August 23, 2018, BY Beth Kaszuba

Two students laugh while looking at a laptop.
Billy Wall '20, founder of Bucknell's new Design Thinking Leadership pre-orientation program, meets with participant Amisha Chhetri '22. Photo by Chris Shipley

In spite of pursuing leadership opportunities in high school, Amisha Chhetri '22 describes herself as shy when meeting new people. Yet five days after joining the Bucknell community, she confidently delivered a presentation to a room full of entrepreneurs and fellow first-year students — thanks to a new student-designed pre-orientation program called Design Thinking Leadership.

"I didn't know pre-orientation programs existed," said Chhetri, who lived in Nepal for nine years before moving to Georgia, then Ohio, with her family. "When I learned about Design Thinking Leadership, I was very excited. And it was a great experience for me. Just amazing."

The program, open to any incoming first-year student, was developed by mechanical engineering major Billy Wall '20, who wanted to create a pre-orientation experience focused on his own passions for entrepreneurship and problem-solving. Participating students were paired with clients who operate real businesses, and who challenged the student teams to generate actionable ideas related to issues such as community outreach and website design.

Chhetri and her team worked with a Lewisburg-based consulting firm whose founder was interested in recruiting talented employees. After less than a week of client meetings, workshops and peer reviews rooted in design-thinking methodology, Chhetri and her teammates delivered a presentation that suggested several possible strategies, including an open house and dedicated internship program.

"I was nervous, but the leaders made sure we had the confidence to present," said Chhetri, who has not declared a major but is interested in management. "People here care so much about each other. And knowing that a student organized the program is very inspiring. I definitely hope to be part of this next year as a leader."

Raven Truxson '22 and Rishaan Misra ’22 navigate a ropes course during the Design Thinking pre-orientation program. Photo by Chris Shipley

Making Strong Connections
For Wall, who is the first Bucknell student to develop a pre-orientation program, the presentations capped off months of planning that began with a University Innovation Fellowship at Stanford University's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design.

While leading the new program was demanding, with activities beginning at 8 a.m. and ending around 10 p.m., Wall said it was gratifying to watch incoming students change over the course of five short days. "They grew professionally and empathetically," he noted. "We built some really strong bonds here."

Wall — who has already fielded inquiries from other universities about his initiative — added that while the program featured social activities, including visits to an amusement park and escape room, participants seemed most excited to work with their clients. "And they didn't put in all of the effort for a grade," he added. "They were just energized to sit down and talk with real business owners."

Rishaan Misra '22, who will study engineering, said Design Thinking Leadership provided him with a great opportunity to meet other new students from across disciplines who share his interest in entrepreneurship.

"When I came to campus, I knew nobody here," said Misra, who grew up in Seattle. "And I was able to not only find friends at the drop of a hat, but friends who really wanted to make strong connections with people who might at first seem to have nothing in common with them."

Misra also enjoyed working with his team's client, a landscape designer specializing in the creation of universally accessible outdoor spaces.

"This experience has become such a big part of the start to my Bucknell career," he said. "I'd highly recommend anyone who's coming to the University to check it out."