So Long, Christina, and Thanks For All The Contributions!

Christina Ngo wrote a series of posts about her stint as a design strategist in OofSI. She, sort of innovatively (and we would expect no less), framed her pieces around the five stages of design (as laid out in the IDEO design thinking model). We thought it would be fitting that the Design Initiatives team respond in kind, by writing a post about her stay here and the impact it had on all of us—in ways small and large.

Design at its core is an intentional way of acting to try and make things better and works across a range of contexts and situations. For instance we could speak about the design of an artifact (say a poster); a process (withdrawing money from an ATM); an experience (an onboarding program for a new employee); a system (running a restaurant); and last, but surely not the least, a culture (developing a culture of innovation in an organization).

What does this have to do with Christina? As it turns out, Christina made a difference to the Design Initiatives team and OofSI along all of these dimensions.

Speaking of artifacts, there are these multi-colored cardboard cubes that hang from a beam in our office. No idea why they are there - but that was Christina. Same for the name banners on each of our doors, triangular pieces of paper connected by string! Little artifacts that capture her whimsical and fun personality.

Christina also brought thoughtful structure and processes to our sometimes chaotic OofSI form of functioning. During summer 2018, Christina worked with faculty member Carmen Johnston to incorporate a design project into TEL 101, a course taken by all MLFTC freshman students. Christina developed a student product in the form of a website, and she backwards planned lessons for students to produce different pages of their websites. The final websites created by the students were not only beautiful but also provided an important structure to a potentially ambiguous assignment. That was not all. Her touch can be seen in other processes as well, such as after-action reviews; spreadsheets for organizing event details; scheduled check-ins for projects. She shared her organizational prowess with us and helped us grow as a result.

As for experiences, Christina’s approach to conducting meetings is a clear example of where she left her mark on our office (see above comment about chaotic OofSI processes). In addition to making very detailed meeting agendas that reflect the value she places on efficiency, Christina deeply values relationship-building, and likes to start meetings with a “whip-around” question, something light, funny, and non-work-related. This is true for internal meetings with people she knows well, or meetings with those she is meeting for the first time. Many of us have adopted this approach to starting meetings, and it represents a small but important contribution to our office.

Christina offered not only experience and energy, but some seriously useful hacks for project management. One of the systems she introduced was identifying metrics and setting goals related to social media posting. This system continues to help us track our progress as we build our social media presence. Her impact was magnified as we adopted this system for the IgnitED Labs.

Christina’s greatest contribution was to the broader office culture of OofSI. And nothing embodies that more than The Board. It looks like a regular old bulletin board, with a border reminiscent of those cool and colorful popout borders your teachers would sometimes have in elementary school, but it’s a lot more than that.

The Board is a place where we leave encouraging notes for one another on the team, publicly acknowledging the hard work everyone puts in in our office (almost always with puns involved). Our first board was cheese-themed, and notes included things such as, “I’m fondue working with you!” or “I’m bleu when you’re not in the office!”. [Honestly, the more cringe-worthy moments in OofSI are probably centered around that cheese pun email chain that carried on for days.]

The Board is also where we say thank you to one another, for helping out with tasks, or simply for being around to talk to and bounce ideas off of. Recognizing one another’s accomplishments and taking the time to express gratitude is a huge reason why our team works so well together. We are truly grateful for what each person brings to the table, and publicly show our a-brie-ciation. (Sorry.) (Not really.)

The second iteration of our office gratitude board.

Our goal within OofSI is to work towards sustainable transformational change, particularly in educational contexts. What we have realized is that if this change is to stay it has to be at the level of systems and culture. This does not mean that artifacts and processes and experiences don’t count, absolutely they do. But changes to systems and culture have a deeper root. Similarly, those floating cubes may go away one day or the triangular name tags on our doors may fall off. But Christina’s kindness, and whimsy, her emphasis on gratitude and the processes she initiated, have influenced our systems and culture and will stay on. They are now woven into the warp and woof of the fabric of our unit. And for that we owe her a debt of gratitude.

We should add that we are grate-ful that there will be no more bad cheese related puns. That we have had enough of! How do we feel about goodbye? You gotta take the gouda with the bad.

We wish Christina well in her future adventures. And now...back to the daily rind.

This post was written by the entire design initiatives team: Punya Mishra, Jennifer Stein, Ben Scragg, Lisa Wyatt, Claire Gilbert and Cassandra Kellaris.