New director named for Design Thinking Academy

Photo of David Coffey
David Coffey
Image credit - Bernadine Carey-Tucker

The Design Thinking Academy at Grand Valley State University helps students develop into inventive thinkers and problems solvers by utilizing the design thinking process.

Ahead of the 2018-19 academic year, David Coffey, professor of mathematics, has been named the new director of the academy. 

The 2017-18 academic year was the inaugural year of the academy. During that time, the program paired more than 40 students with faculty mentors and community partners to learn as fellows about the design thinking process and help solve real-world problems. West Michigan companies and organizations academy fellows have worked with in the past include Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Gentex and United Way.

“Design thinking is often referred to as ‘creative problem solving,’ and I see that as being in line with the Grand Valley vision,” said Coffey. "The hope is that the Fellows might be teaching assistants to professors who want to include the design cycle in their courses.”

While the inaugural year was divided into two semester-long sessions, Coffey said this coming year’s iteration of the program will transition into encompassing an entire academic year.

Also new this year, the Design Thinking Academy will be housed in the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies.

“I am pleased to welcome the Design Thinking Academy into Brooks College as a program that further enhances the college’s reputation for innovation and integrative learning, and I look forward to supporting David in his new role,” said Anne Hiskes, dean of Brooks College.

Prior to being named director, Coffey worked with Design Thinking academy fellows as a team coach, director of coaches and as a presenter. Coffey has also contributed to Grand Valley’s overall Design Thinking Initiative through faculty summits, the Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center’s Learning Communities, and the proposal process to approve the design thinking certificate students earn upon completing their time in the academy.

When the Design Thinking Initiative began at Grand Valley in 2014, former Provost Gayle Davis appointed Coffey to a faculty task force whose mission was to introduce faculty to the design thinking process as a tool for experiential learning. Since 2015, Coffey has experienced two design thinking “deep dive” seminars, one at the Henry Ford Learning Institute and another at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University. He has also co-facilitated two design thinking book studies through FTLC and led more than a dozen design thinking challenges in the community and for Grand Valley students, faculty and staff.

Coffey replaces John Berry as director of the Design Thinking Academy.

For more information about the Design Thinking Academy, visit


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