Innovating for the Environment

In their first-year Creativity & Innovation course, students use creative problem-solving skills to promote sustainability
Jake Sherman and Grace Owens

To illustrate the negative impact that human-generated waste products have on wildlife, Jake Sherman (left, with classmate Grace Owens) designed a game called Trash Track, in which players race to clock to remove trash from the belly of a large stuffed bear.

At Suffolk, creativity is not optional.

Just ask first-year student Jake Sherman. For his required Creativity & Innovation course, Solutions for Sustainability, Sherman and some of his classmates designed a game called Trash Track, inspired by the popular board game Operation.

But instead of operating on a human figure, Trash Track players race the clock to remove human-generated waste products like toothpaste tubes and electronics components from the belly of a large stuffed bear.

“Players learn about the negative impact that waste can have on animals and the environment,” explains Sherman. Meanwhile, students are learning how to use creative problem-solving skills to address real-world problems.

All first-year students in both the College of Arts & Sciences and Sawyer Business School are required to take a Creativity & Innovation (CI) course. Students have their pick of more than 50 courses from 23 different disciplines, including The Entrepreneur’s Cocktail, Failing Successfully, and Creating Social Change: From Theory to Activism.

“We live in a chaotic world, and we need to find new approaches to face challenging situations around us,” says George Moker, a professor of marketing and the co-founder and co-director of the Creativity & Innovation Program.

Fresh approaches to long-standing problems

First-year student Grace Owens says that while she’s never considered herself particularly creative, she was intrigued by the sound of the Solutions for Sustainability course. “I’ve always been in interested in the environment and learning how to become a more sustainable person,” she says.

Instructor Joanna Trainor, EMBA ’07, has two goals: Teach students specific techniques they can use to approach problems in fresh ways, and introduce them to sustainable practices they can incorporate into their own lives.

There are no quizzes or tests; instead, the emphasis is on group collaboration — and on getting comfortable with risk taking and failures that lead to better solutions. Students participate in five group presentations before designing a board game that promotes sustainability for their final project.

“It’s easier to be creative working in teams because students bounce ideas off each other and build on them,” says Trainor. “Many of the students tell me that working with others makes their ideas better.”

“I learned that creativity isn’t just about being the most unique or thinking outside the box,” says Owens, a psychology major. “I also learned that sustainability is about so much more than pollution and natural resources.”

For one assignment, students kept a waste journal in which they tracked every single piece of trash they created for a week. “It really helped me to become more self-aware,” says Owens. “I’ve continued conserving water, not using plastic water bottles, and reducing my unnecessary electricity use.”

Sherman, a management and global business double major, was a big fan of the group format. “I got to know my peers on both an academic and personal level, developed some friendships, and grew my network at Suffolk,” he says. “I’ve always taken a leadership role when working in a group, and this class taught me more about who I am as a leader and what I can do better.”

“The students came up with so many amazing ideas,” says Trainor. “It was rewarding to see them make purposeful decisions around sustainability and not be afraid to apply new ideas to try and solve the impossible.”

“It’s easier to be creative working in teams because students bounce ideas off each other and build on them. Many tell me that working with others makes their ideas better.”
Joanna Trainor, Instructor Management & Entrepreneurship


Tony Ferullo
Office of Public Affairs

Greg Gatlin
Office of Public Affairs