ICE Project helps bring ‘design thinking’ to GMS
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Will Shoemaker

Simple tenets that have spurred a new wave of thinking in the world of business and technology are infiltrating the minds of youth.

Educators at Gunnison Middle School (GMS) launched a partnership this year with the Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship (ICE) Project. The nonprofit ICE, born at Western State Colorado University, focuses on supporting and generating cutting-edge spaces and programs that teach and promote its three pillars across campus and Colorado.

ICE has helped the eighthgrade teachers integrate “design thinking” and problem solving processes into the GMS curriculum — and empower students to become “changemakers” in their own community — as part of the school’s annual “legacy” project for eighth graders.

“After the launch of the ICELab at Western, we were looking for the next thing,” said ICE founder and Western associate business professor Chris Greene, noting that a K-12 initiative in the valley was even being tossed around when GMS teachers approached him and “the vision all came together.”

Design thinking is a solutions-based approach to problem solving — adopted by leading brands such as Apple, Google and Samsung — and grounded in a four-phase process: empathizing, ideation, prototyping and launching ideas. “Design Days” this semester have entailed students learning about and practicing each of those phases.

Eighth graders recently paired up on solutions they’d concocted for a pressing problem — pitching those entrepreneurial ideas last Monday on Western’s campus to each other, teachers and ICE Project students alike.

Most of the ideas focused on the often tricky and time-consuming practice of gift-giving. For instance, Anna Cattles and Emeline Rollins produced the idea for an app devoted entirely to food to help people in giving tasty treats when the occasion calls for it.

“I realized that everyone loves food,” said Cattles.

“Also, making a gift is more sentimental than buying one,” added Rollins.

Another duo aimed sky-high with their plan to launch a giftdelivery service.

“We’re going to be competing with the big brands — like FedEx,” said Adrian Perea to chuckles from the crowd.

Eighth-grade student teacher Katya Schloesser has been instrumental in seeing the collaboration to fruition. In a previous career, she worked as a community engagement specialist at University of Colorado in Boulder, building partnerships between higher education and K-12 educators, local governments and nonprofits.

For years, she’s noticed the impact that design thinking has had within engineering and business education. When eighth grade teachers were discussing plans for the annual legacy project last fall, Schloesser suggested reaching out to the ICE Project.

In coming weeks as part of the final phase of the initiative, students will begin to work on their own project idea, navigating each stage of the design cycle.

Schloesser said the project has presented an opportunity for students to practice 21st century skills such as invention, collaboration and selfdirection. At the same time, during last week’s pitch session students admittedly afraid of speaking before their peers learned to overcome their qualms.

Additionally, ICE Project students from Western enjoy interacting with eighth graders as much as the GMS kids love learning what it’s like to be a college student and a young entrepreneur. ICE Project even hopes that the approach can be applied to other rural schools.

“One of the unique ideas that allows the ICE Project to continuously bring new ICE initiatives to the Gunnison Valley with so little resources is that we believe students can be the change agents that spark accelerated and lasting impact in our community,” explained Greene via e-mail. “By empowering teams of Western students with a real opportunity to make a real impact on this generation of eighth graders at GMS, Western students are also developing their own set of attitudes and skills that will be needed to tackle the challenges of tomorrow, no matter where they end up.”

(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or