Inventing Solutions

Inventions help teach creative and critical problem-solving skills

Above: Emily Rist ’14 discusses the invention she created for her Creative and Critical Problem Solving course with Bill Mattson, a Randolph chemistry professor. Rist created a base that prevents high-heeled shoes from sticking in brick walkways.

Finding Connections

Courses help students explore relationships among academic areas

Interdisciplinary studies (I ST) courses at Randolph College give students the best of all worlds by providing students with the opportunity to explore the relationship and mutual dependence of ideas, methods, and beliefs within different disciplines and areas. The curriculum includes a number of courses taught jointly by faculty members of different departments that may be counted toward departmental major requirements. In addition to courses offered to all students, first-year Randolph students are required to take two seven-week seminars. These I ST seminars are designed to introduce them to the liberal arts and sciences and to help them begin to make connections between subject areas. The following stories detail two of the I ST options available to students at Randolph.

Emily Rist '14 displays her invention.Rist created a base that prevents high-heeled shoes from sticking in brick walkways.

Emily Rist ’14 literally stumbled upon her project for Bill Mattson’s Creative and Critical Problem Solving course this year. Mattson challenged the students in the interdisciplinary studies (I ST) course to invent something to solve an annoying problem. Rist, who likes to wear high heels, came up with an invention that would make walking on the College’s brick pathways safer.

“I love the way stilettos look, but because of the heel, you can sink down into mud, or you can get caught in the bricks,” said Rist. “So I thought I’d really like something that would make pretty shoes safer while still keeping them pretty.”

Rist created a triangular base that widened and stabilized the base of a high-heeled shoe. Her invention, like the others created for Mattson’s class, was a hands-on way to teach students about how to creatively solve problems.

A chemistry professor, Mattson is well versed in the importance of trial and error in laboratory work, and he believes the same concept is useful in everyday life. “I’m convinced that creative problem solving is similar, that the more you practice, the better you get at it,” he said.

In his course, students are encouraged to think of different ways to solve problems. After making a list of annoyances, students solve one of those problems with an invention using materials costing no more than a few dollars. In addition to Rist’s safety device for high heels, students in Mattson’s course have created everything from specially designed sleeves to hold college identification cards to glasses with attached earplugs that blocked both sound and light.

The creative thinking skills students gain from courses like this help them academically and in life, Mattson said. “I’m after a fluency and flexibility in their thinking. Where somebody normally might find one or two solutions to a problem, I want them to have 12 or 25. They need to get the word ‘impossible’ out of their vocabulary.”