Embracing the unexpected
For senior, Chase Maszle ('17), being a part of JMU's Destination Imagination (DI) was pure luck. He stumbled into the class thinking it would be an elective that would help him learn better team-dynamics. That criterion, he found, just scratched the surface of what DI could offer him as a student and soon-to-graduate digital media producer.
Destination Imagination is a global, volunteer-led non-proﬁt with a mission is to teach students the creative process and help them gain the 21st century skills needed to succeed in the future workforce, including creative and critical thinking, collaborative problem solving and project management.
"Taking part in Destination Imagination has allowed me to see something that you don't find in most modern-day classrooms," Maszle acknowledged. "I see commitment, real-life problem solving, fellow classmates challenging me, and professors who understand that it's more effective to help us learn how to think rather than teach us what to think."
Large image caption: Chase Maszle ('17), a senior Media Arts and Design major, plans to work for one of Destination Imagination's headlining sponsors, Disney.
Engaging the inner-child
“We’ve all gone mad here,” were the words used by Ariana Dellinger (’18) to describe JMU’s Destination Imagination (DI) “instant challenge workshop,” an event in January which hosted over 100 children on east campus’ Integrated Science and Technology building for an interactive problem-solving experience. Ariana was explaining to the children how DI members wear crazy hats to inspire open-minded creative thinking.
The award-winning collegiate-level DI team, which participates and competes on a state and global level, annually invites younger DI teams to get a taste of what an actual competition might look like.
“The biggest thing is learning how to problem solve and helping the students understand ways to work together as a team,” explained Dellinger, a communications science and disorders major at JMU.
Large image caption: Alex Pickens ('18) provides feedback to students, giving them tactics for working together more productively. Photo: Chase Conrad Maszle
Alex Pickens (’18), pursing a double major in English and economics, has been in DI for the past year.
Pickens explained, “There are several ways you can do Destination Imagination: you can do it for credit through ISAT and Engineering, but I have done it in Honors, and I know someone who did it in communications, and in art. So, it pretty much covers the entire campus.”
Having been to global finals once already, Pickens emphasized that, “You can have fun while you do things that are scientific.” He argued that young learners love the DI format emphasizing, “It has more appeal to them, and it helps them think beyond their normal culture.”
Pickens is convinced that he would recommend DI to students because, “It is just so much fun, and because it challenges you to think in different ways with different majors, different backgrounds, different areas of expertise: science, art, rhetoric."
“Like Einstein said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge,’ and I think there is a reason for that,” Pickens laughed. “Kids don’t like to be told what to do, and what to think. So a lot of imagination is trying to come up with an alternate sort of world that helps explain our world and think of new ways to approach problems.”
Hannah Gutman ('17) serves as the president of JMU’s team, and has enjoyed learning key life-lessons during her tenure with DI over the past 16 years. Guzman will graduate this May, and majors in theatre and dance while minoring in creative writing.
“They don’t even realize that they are learning because they’re having fun,” mentions Gutman. “One of our favorite things to see from our teams is involvement with the local community. Whether they are raising money for local organizations or working with schools or retirement communities to spend time teaching and running activities, we love to do what we can share the creativity and fun of Destination Imagination while making a difference.”
Large image caption: Occasionally, participants are provided materials to incorporate into their skits. If they creatively use the supplies, the team is awarded a higher overall score.
Large image caption: Ariana Dellinger was part of JMU DI's "Show and Tech" team. An aggressive engineering challenge was presented to Ariana and her team at the start of the semester, and she has assisted several creative arts and engineering students navigate goals and checkpoints as the co-captain. Ariana also played the role of a spider in the team's performance, which acted as a fictional parallel to the United States border crisis.
It's critical for DI to have access to ample space, and a collaborative environment. Without such an area, operations and innovation would not be as outstanding as it is today.
To accommodate that requirement, students meet in a cross-utilized warehouse off of the university's property. The warehouse is also home to several Integrated Science and Technology programs, including a wind power lab and several alternate energy units.
The space includes an area for the teams to gather and construct their sets, and provide easy access for loading and unloading large, finished props.
Elizabeth Armstrong, the managing professor of James Madison University’s team explained that annually attending and volunteering at the regional-level is inspiring and eye opening for team members because they have the opportunity to see younger students stretching their imaginations far-beyond expectation.
"This competition is vitally important for our students who are planning to go to the global competition in Knoxville because it teaches them the most about what the actual competition looks like," said Elizabeth Armstrong, the managing professor of James Madison University’s team.
Large image caption: Two JMU students getting an inside look at what is required to operate a medium-scale event with Destination Imagination as appraisers.
Q&A with Angela Pickens
Large image caption: Angela is an enthusiastic, playful and extraordinary modern foreign language major graduating in 2018. Her charisma is what makes her a unique three-year DI veteran.
How does Destination Imagination relate to your major, and goals?
"Since I am a language major, a class that is heavy on teamwork, engineering, and theater does not exactly tie into my major. But that is precisely why I love the class—it is entirely different from my major, and really from any other class that I have taken while at JMU. This class keeps me from staying in my comfort zone."
How do you feel about the teamwork component of DI?
"The teamwork is at the same time the most difficult and the most rewarding component of the class. You learn new skills with every team (and they are just thrown together and have to turn out a full stage and performance in a few months), and it is amazing to see how people who did not know each other two months ago, and who come from every different major, forge a team and turn out a globally competitive performance."
Will you use what you learned in DI after JMU?
"Certainly. Sometimes I feel as if everything I learn from this class will be the most useful thing I take away from JMU. Every time I have a task on short notice, or find myself working with a randomly assembled team, I can draw from the experience in Destination Imagination."
What’s the giant cardboard pizza slice all about?
"In our script, we had to have someone walk onto the stage eating a piece of pizza. We score higher points in our challenges if our props are reclaimed materials, and show superior detail. Doesn't it look delicious?"
Janae mentioned that she also looks forward to trading collector pins, a popular tradition within the DI community.
"This is a phenomenal way to get to know people from other cultures with unique ways of solving problems."
But, for Janae, getting to know fellow DI participants from around the world isn't the only benefit. Towards the end of May, they'll pack up and share their JMU spirit with the world.
"Since these young minds often look up to college students, they will have the chance to remember JMU as a school that supports creativity," Janae exclaims. "And that's exactly what makes me proud to represent Virginia and JMU at Global Finals. We're modeling our school spirit, and acting as positive and innovative role models for the University. That's priceless."
Large image caption: Janae Brown ('19) fills out her challenge solution paperwork, which is submitted in advance to the Destination Imagination organization before global finals.