June Gathering Fosters Creativity and Improvisation-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

June Gathering Fosters Creativity and Improvisation

Improv games; designing and pitching the hottest new product for pet health; building the fastest LEGO buggy. These apparently disparate things make a little more sense in the context of activities to encourage creativity and improvisation. At the second Gathering of the academic year, part-time and full-time Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley students thought outside-of-the-box during workshops to further develop their skills as software engineers, participating in these activities and more.

Creativity seems not too farfetched when it comes to engineering skills but what does improvisation have to do with software development? More than you might think. Patricia Madson, a Senior Lecturer Emerita at Stanford University and guest speaker at the Gathering, said, “The practice of improvisation provides a way for engineers to explore their imagination, which is essential to problem solving and innovation.”

Through improv games, Madson taught students how to thrive in chaotic and unpredictable environments and, correspondingly, how to become more resilient and agile engineers. Collaboration and teamwork as concepts crucial to the craft of software development were also emphasized through ways to support one another in words and actions to advance an idea, no matter how silly it may be in an improv sketch.

“The improv sessions taught us to grow the reflex of thinking on our feet and simultaneously removing inhibitions,” said Abhinav Trivedi, a part-time Software Engineering graduate student. “Those skills help a lot when we’re working in a team, collaborating towards a common solution or goal and come across challenges.”

Other workshops throughout the day included “Creativity in Action,” led by Linda Bickham, who is leading the first Academic Culture and Communication (ACC) program at the Silicon Valley campus this summer, and “Collaboration in Practice.” In the former, student teams were given the task to design and pitch a product and corresponding application. In the latter, students were encouraged to brainstorm and discuss ways to increase collaboration amongst themselves, especially between part-time and full-time students.

“Many of us create better things together than when we’re alone,” said Kaushik Gopal, full-time MS Software Engineering student. “Collaboration is a big part of our field so it’s important to talk about how we can do that better.” The Gathering concluded with a performance by the group, Blue Blanket Improv, of which Todd Sedano, CMU-SV Director of Software Engineering, is a member.

The previous Gathering was held as an unconference for students to discuss issues of interest to them, whether it was on startup processes or developments in big data. This time around, creativity (and just plain fun) filled the rooms of Building 23, as students embraced fostering another tool in their arsenal of engineering skills. “In Silicon Valley, there’s a great need for innovation in the products we make,” said Sedano. “We’re an institution that values innovation and believe that creativity drives engineers to continuously innovate.”

Pictured above (from left): Clyde Li (MS SE '13), Richa Pathak (MS SM '14) Rob Black (MS SE '14)