Imagination at Work

First-year creativity courses give students a competitive edge

Imagination at Work

The Creativity & Innovation course Chemistry is Everywhere engages students through educational games such as Pollution Monopoly. Gaming taps into the part of the brain where students retain information. Below: Professor Stephan Thieringer visits with a student.

Story by Nancy Kelleher
Photograph by Michael J. Clarke

Artificial intelligence and automation have been injecting uncertainty into employment projections for years. But Suffolk students are building the skills that will continue to be in demand as the job market evolves.


A first-year Creativity & Innovation course, required of all Suffolk undergraduates, helps lay the foundation by challenging students to take intellectual risks and seize intriguing learning experiences. Suffolk offers Creativity & Innovation classes in 20 disciplines, all aimed at instilling flexibility in thinking so that students will explore new ideas without the fear of failure.


These courses allow students to take a deep dive into areas closely aligned with their personal interests. Students in the highly immersive, hands-on courses “solve problems on their feet,” says Marilyn Plotkins, chair of the Theatre Department and cochair of the Creativity & Innovation Steering Committee. “What’s so great about their not being lecture-based is that they require solving problems in teams.”


Indira Ortiz Santana was enthused about her Creative Writing and Literacy class right from the start: “I thought: I can be creative and have fun and just be myself.”


Her project-based creative writing course with Professor Wyatt Bonikowski incorporated service-learning through a tutoring program with 826 Boston, a nonprofit that helps youths write and publish work.


With the advent of remote learning during the spring semester, the Suffolk students replaced a planned in-person project with the 826 Boston youngsters, instead meeting through Zoom for a storytelling session with the prompt: What would it be like to bring home an animal from the nearby Franklin Park Zoo?


Immersion in creative projects gave Ortiz Santana confidence.


“Professor Bonikowski really helped us be better writers and thinkers,” she says. “Coming up with something to write in a journal was hard for me. Now I’m more expressive. I’m writing poems and drawing. I actually kept going with my journal this summer. I open the window and write about what I see outside.”


Preparing for jobs of the future

Business owners know that unpredictable events in the environment, medicine, society, politics, and the economy will occur with greater frequency in the coming decade, according to Dave Merry, associate provost and executive director of Suffolk’s Center for Career Education and Professional Development.


“They are looking to bring people into their organizations who can develop and implement creative solutions that will help companies to survive, and perhaps to thrive, through those unexpected challenges,” he says. “In fact, LinkedIn has listed ‘creativity’ as its top soft skill in both 2019 and 2020.”


In the Entrepreneur’s Cocktail course, Shirley Dang, Class of 2023, and her team created a virtual company and launched products, discovering in the process “that it’s OK to ask for help and that nobody needs to be perfect and do everything themselves.”


Stephan Thieringer, a Sawyer Business School professor and creator of the course, taps into principles inherent to entrepreneurism through his lessons. “My course is really an invitation to think about who you are and what’s aligned between your gut, your heart, and your brain,” he says.


The Creativity & Innovation courses provide inspiration for students and instructors, says George Moker, the Carol Sawyer Parks Chair in Entrepreneurial Studies and cochair of the Creativity & Innovation Steering Committee.


“Faculty love it because they can present challenges to their students and serve as coaches,” Moker says. “Students love it because they choose a topic that interests them, and they’re aware that there’s something different about the course—a playfulness about it, but with high expectations.”


As the coronavirus has battered the world economy, leading to dire unemployment reports, organizations that have navigated the pandemic successfully were able to quickly adapt to this novel situation with innovative solutions, says Merry. So while machines could sort coronavirus data, and AI could be used to run assembly lines producing protective clothing, human intelligence was required to adapt automobile plants for manufacture of respirator parts and convert fashion house couture lines for surgical mask production.


“We are differentiating the human from the machine,” Moker says. “AI is based on probability, while the human brain is based on survival. We become most creative and innovative when we are trying to survive.

Stephan Thieringer

Creativity Course Catalog

Creativity & Innovation courses teach skills including adaptability, resilience, thinking outside the box, problem-solving, and the ability to communicate effectively in a team.

A sample of these skill building courses are:

The Open-Hearted Historian

Students put themselves in the shoes of earlier peoples to understand their lives from their perspectives.

Think Small: Change the World

Students design nanostructures and nanomachines using inhouse computational and experimental tools.

The Design of Everything

By exploring a selection of genius personalities—from Newton to Warhol—students discover the process of design and follow through with hands-on group creative projects.

Creating the Dream Team

Students learn the value of collaboration for meeting business challenges.

Sustainability, Energy, and Technology at Suffolk University

Students in the project- and team-based course spend the semester developing proposals to address a sustainability issue on campus.

Suffolk University Magazine

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