UNO Scott Scholars Work with AIM to Design Cohesion, Tell Our Story

February 13, 2020

UNO first-year Computer Science major Zander Gibney’s favorite local nonprofit is—and we cannot stress this enough—the AIM Institute.

Zander plans to pursue a career in video game development and spends a lot of his time buckling down to study. In that respect, he’s not unusual. Many university students study hard too, especially in the 24-to-48 hour panic window before midterms.

But Zander stays intensely busy year-round, not just with his demanding coursework, but also with his YouTube channel Lettuce Rock, which features short films he has written, directed and starred in. He’s also a member of the most prestigious scholarship program extended by the University of Nebraska system: the Scott scholarship.

Named for local billionaire Walter Scott, Jr. (no relation to 19th century Scottish author of Ivanhoe and Rob Roy, as far as we know) the Scott Scholars program is open to the most talented and promising students in the UNL College of Engineering, UNO College of Information Science and Technology, and other STEM-related programs. The scholarship completely funds an undergrad’s university education, including tuition, room and board, and supplementary learning experiences.

A public service leadership component is required of the scholars. Teams of ten students collaborate with a local nonprofit to assess organizational issues. Each team then creates a strategic plan for their respective nonprofit. For the next four years of their university experience, the teams help guide and implement the approved plan.

Every year, multiple nonprofits benefit from the work of Scott Scholars. How are the nonprofits chosen? By the students themselves.

“Individually, we all ranked which nonprofits we wanted to work with,” Zander said. “My number one was AIM.”

We’re glad to hear that. And we’re glad to welcome them into our mission to grow, connect and inspire the tech community.

Using the principle of design thinking, Zander and his team spent weeks interviewing AIM leadership, employees and program participants, as well as community members at large. They diagnosed pain points and identified issues they saw in the organization overall. This approach allows the team to suspend egos and design an AIM-centric strategy.

In other words, as Zander put it, “You go in with the core issue people are having and not what you think the issue is.”

Students then reconvene to start imagining solutions, taking a cue from improv acting.

“You don’t want to shoot down ideas, because what if they’re amazing?” he said. “What they taught us to do is to use the improv technique of ‘Yes, and’ thinking.”

That’s good, because to engage in “No, but” thinking constitutes the technical faux pas of scene-blocking—the bane of any talented improviser’s existence (or any innovator’s, for that matter).

What did the Scott Scholars come up with?

Zander summed it up: “We saw an image problem. People didn’t really understand what AIM was about, whether they were donors or participants in the programs. It felt like a huge disconnect with everything that was going on.”

While we can’t tell you exactly the big idea the group devised, rest assured you will soon see evidence of the Scott Scholars’ design thinking in action, perhaps at your computer, perhaps in a quiet moment of distraction at work or school, perhaps anytime wherever you are.