Client: Compass Youth Center, Durham, NC, USA.

Duke’s Apollo 13 with Prof. Kathie Amato

Using the Principles of Design Thinking and innovation my team and I worked with our client to address critical areas of concerns.

I would like to take a moment and thank Prof. Kathie Amato for being a fantastic guide and helping us deliver insightful solutions to our client.

Executive Summary

Learning by doing: In the book “Learning to Improve”, the authors talk about how in the late 1990s, a lot of education changemakers believed that public schools in the U.S. were ‘too big and too impersonal’. An immediate effect of this was high schools failing a big chunk of students – especially those who hailed from disadvantaged backgrounds with minimal financial means to further sustain their educational needs. As a result, an exceedingly high number of such students dropped out, and those who braved the storm and did persist to graduation were grossly underprepared for higher education or work. Policy advocates and educational reformers thus started emphasizing on how to create truly engaging learning environments, and how having smaller school communities particularly benefitted students from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds the most.

Compass Youth Center and FIRST competitions:  Since Compass Youth Center’s inception, they’ve helped transform the lives of more than 400 students in over 10 schools. The medium that Mr Wilkins adapted for this transformation was through FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) competitions. Mr. Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST, says, and I quote, that the “mission of FIRST is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.” However, participating at such high-level competitions along with building robots that can perform complicated tasks is a costly affair, and heavy on human capital as well. To address these shortcomings and to uncover the actual job to be done, Team Apollo 13 did a Design Sprint over the last 9 weeks, interviewing multiple stakeholders and getting their constant feedback on the various assumptions in the process. Our attempt in this document is to put on paper everything we experienced in the process – right from our learnings from the stakeholder meetings to performing an analysis on our recommendations to ensure their high impact and feasibility with minimum risk.

Team Apollo 13’s recommendations: Our recommendations are three-fold. The first talks about Human Resources, wherein we talk about leveraging volunteers from the FIRST alumni association, from Duke University, NCSU, as well as the state of North Carolina. Moreover, we even surveyed the association here at Duke to gauge their willingness to volunteer with Compass Youth Center. We also plan to leverage volunteers from the Graduate Christian Fellowship here at Duke and expand more upon how faith-based communities can play a critical role in solving Compass Youth Center’s volunteer woes, considering that all the associates with CYC have zero financial incentives.

Secondly, our aim is to increase the overall awareness of the cause CYC is working toward, as well as the efforts they’re taking and opening it to a platform for like-minded changemakers. We spoke to Dr. Mary Hemphill, the Director of Computer Science & technology Education and tried to understand the different resources available for such non-profits. We also briefly talk about using social media as a platform to engage with a wider audience that resonates with CYC’s work.

Thirdly, we focus upon raising donations for CYC, starting from resources they can easily leverage from here at Duke, including grants and funds, as well as school supplies.

Background on the Problem to be Solved

School to prison pipeline

School to prison pipeline begin with the limited education resource in schools, such as crowded classrooms, less qualified teachers. With the zero-tolerance policy of schools, teachers’ decisions on students’ punishment could push students out of classrooms, and such students are more likely to end up breaking the law and be punished to the prisons.

Graph showing the decrease in problems related to lack of discipline and an increase in financial problems.

The best way to reduce the school-to-prison rates is to keep those at-risk students within the classroom. One reason that students leave school is that the class is relatively boring. With more extra-curriculum, students will engage more in the school’s program. However, as the chart below shows, the biggest problem for most of the public schools is financial problems. Most schools have limited financial sources to develop the extra-curriculum programs.

Compass Youth Center (CYC):

Compass Youth Center is a Non-Profit organization based out of Durham. CYC provides educational opportunities and services that are designed to empower and engage the youth. They deliver this by maintaining their central focus on the creation and the successful delivery of quality socioeconomic and community-based programs.

Compass provides pathways out of poverty to the youth with the aim of equipping an individual with improved self-awareness, stronger workforce/economic development, healthier living and improved relations between communities, businesses, local leaders and government agencies.

The goal of the company, achieving which would constitute success, is to assist the at-risk youth population of the country. Along with this, they are also focused on combating the school-to-prison pipeline and promoting personal/professional development for all.

Defining the problem

Background: Compass Youth Center is an organization aimed at providing education and other facilities to get children excited about STEM-based education system. Their goal is to reduce the number of children going to School to Prison Pipeline.

Problem Statement (Client): Developing a process to enhance volunteer and donor management, increase corporate engagement and process for online giving with employer.

Interview: As per the interview with the client, we created an empathy map to determine the link between his verbal and nonverbal cues.

Empathy map of interviewees at CYC.

Jobs To be Done (Ultimate Goal of Compass Youth Center):

Decrease the number of children going into “school to prison pipeline” and make the underprivileged kids the technological leaders of tomorrow by giving quality STEM education at the crucial age of k-12.


After conducting initial interviews with the stakeholders as well as the clients, we tested our assumptions of our roadmap and analyzed it through certain frameworks to ensure a robust recommendation grounded in reality.

Porter’s six forces

By using Porter’s six forces, several factors affecting the Compass Youth Center has been determined. Threats, compliments and those with power were identified and analyzed to find the amount of impact each force has on Compass Youth Center. After identification and analysis, Supplier Power was found to be the most affecting factor. Donors are one of the biggest sources of funds for Compass Youth Center and they have the power to choose other organizations which makes them very important in our ecosystem. Focusing on identifying new donors and retaining current ones were made a priority over other forces. Also compliments, identified to be different tech companies and manufacturing industries, was also on high priority as they can they can have collaborations with Compass Youth Center to support their cause by supplying parts and volunteer services. Threats of substitution, industry competitors and threat of new entrants was not as high priority, as these three forces were recognized to be not as impactful in NGO organizations.

Porter’s 6 forces analysis

Drucker’s Discipline of Innovation

Using Drucker’s Discipline of Innovation has helped us think and ideate as an inside member of Compass Youth Center. By analyzing the seven opportunities of unexpected occurrences, incongruities, process needs, industry and market changes, demographic changes, changes in perception and new knowledge has helped up build ideas that led to our recommendations. One area that helped build our recommendation was analyzing the process needs. The team had been focusing on the donors and getting financial help, but after analyzing the process needs the team recognized that the greater need is having additional manpower to handle responsibilities. Also, looking into the changes in perception, we have learned that we could possibly look at other sources other than education and technology fields to gain resources. The idea of targeting faith-based communities was one of the results of analyzing the changes in perception.

Stakeholders Ethnographic Interviews:

Given the time constraint, we primarily focused on the prioritized stakeholders and asked a bunch of open-ended questions to solicit an answer which will aid us to uncover untold stories. The primary groups of people who we interviewed are:

  1. CYC/ FIRST Alumni :
  2. School administration
  3. Government agencies
  4. Faith-based communities

Each of these interviews was designed to bring out specific stories and we figured out the main pain-points by both their verbal cues and non-verbal cues. This helped us build strong customer personas.

Customer Personas

We created a few customer personas to understand the key traits of a large segment of our different stakeholders. These customer personas helped us better understand the problem and identify the key pain points of the stakeholders.

Dr. Jenny Longwood

Principal, Age- 52, Educator, Industry- Education, Job Title-Principal

Her personal goals- She wants to create an opportunity for education for all the kids in the area, because she believes that education will help them to get a bright future. Her best skills are managing people, Active Listening, Empower Others, Delegate More Tasks, Act Decisively, Motivate Change, Communicate Clearly to parents and students. Her professional goals- To make sure her school is the best in the area, providing all the necessary facilities to the students

Dr. Sarah Lancaster

Government Professional, Age- 60, Retired

Her best skills are Leadership Coach, Educational Innovator, Motivational Speaker inspiring women. Her professional goals- She wants to inspire children and women to have a limitless lifestyle. Her hope is to help discover people’s best self through leadership tips, lifestyle advice, & motivational inspiration to help create & sustain their lifestyle.

Mr. Stephen Hicks

Social Worker, Age- 52, Community Volunteer, Industry- Social Services, Job Title- Campus Director. His personal goals- He wants to give back to the society by arranging volunteering events and believes in bringing together all communities for betterment of the society. He believes in a higher power guiding us to contribute for improving the conditions in the society. His best skills are managing people, interacting with people, sharing his stories for motivation, arranging various events for bringing in people from different cultures together. His professional goals- To make sure incoming students from any part of the world feel welcomed and have minimal issues adjusting to this new environment.

Mr. Joe Carpenter

Student, Age- 22, Tech Enthusiast, Job Title- Student

His personal goals- He is a tech enthusiast and thus is always working on some project/ coursework and is an overachiever in every domain he participates. He likes to work a lot and help others to bring out the best in them. His best skills are technical expertise in a wide range of subjects and experience in building robots. His professional goals- To build a career in the technology industry while establishing relationships with an alumnus from all the organizations he’s been involved with.

Customer journey maps:

We created a customer journey map of CYC analyzing its high points and pain-points. The 3 main pain-points that we identified were 1) Lack of awareness 2) Limited human resources 3) Shortage of donation money


Developing customer journey maps

  1. Lack of awareness: CYC like most NGO’s lacked awareness and needed some sort of promotion and spreading of word. CYC’s mission was unique and was one of a kind in its space and needed recognition. We prioritized this as one of the most important pain-point because solving this can lead to pathways to solve all the remaining problems. Also, CYC’s social media presence was very limited and no attention was given to it.
  2. Limited human resources: This was a classical example of what people say and what they do will be completely different. When we interviewed stakeholders, we got answers on the lines of more donor money was needed. But when we went and saw the entire process, we figured out that the problem was majorly due to lack of human resources.
  3. Shortage of donation money: CYC’s ambition was very big, it was providing for more than 10 schools, but the money inflow was limited. The money was being divided among the NGOs which were in and around Durham/RTP/Raleigh.

Refining the problem

By “What If” analysis of the pain points as per design thinking methodology, we did the following activities

Conduct interviews: Interviews with key stakeholders namely Philip Liu (FIRST Alumni Association at Duke), Josephine-Dobbs Clement Early College Associate and Lorenza Wilkins, Board Members, Donors and Parents.

Brainstorming: We have identified the preliminary problem as associated with insufficient money, clashes between ideas of board of members and money management. Also, we plan to evaluate the interview feedback and market analysis for better problem understanding. After brainstorming, the identified pain points would be addressed with the metrics indicated below.

Refined problem

Brainstorming and Concept Development:

After identifying the main pain points, we as a team did a very wild brainstorming session. There was no judgement on ideas, our main aim was to get as many ideas as possible as opposed to quality of ideas. We generated around 65 ideas at the end of 3 hours of brainstorming. We as a team believed in building upon each other’s ideas and we used sticky notes to add ideas. The whole process was messy and untidy however, the best ideas were generated as we built upon each other’s ideas to come up with solid ideas which can become potential solutions.

All possible solutions 🙂

Here is a short video of our Design Sprint:

Prioritizing and evaluating tradeoffs:

After the brainstorming session, we had come up with strong ideas that needed to be polished and evaluated. The test was done basing based on evaluating impact vs feasibility. This was one of the toughest phases as we had to come up with only 3 ideas which were both impactful and feasible. Categorizing them into no-brainers, big bets and utilities we were able to select the top 3 ideas to develop them into concepts which could be implemented.

Evaluation of feasibility vs impact

Recommended solutions

1)Build Human resources

The FIRST Alumni at Duke has agreed to give on an average of 3.6 hrs./week. The team of 30 is split as 10 members to train CYC’s students in soft-skill development and rest 20 train them technically. The meeting of student mentors and school children will happen virtually starting from Jan 2020 and possibly meet once a month. The same roadmap can be extended to other FIRST alumni organizations such as FIRST alumni of NC, FIRST alumni at NC state University. CYC should have a couple of FIRST alumni as board members in the short term and have CYC Alumni as board members in the long run. Faith based communities will be a major source of human power and donations, CYC should thus make strong relationships with the church-based organizations.

Motivation: FIRST alumni will be seasoned in making robots and can bring their expertise to the table. They can also empathize better with the students and help bridge the gap between donors and students.  Additionally, leveraging the power of faith-based communities CYC can have adult volunteers who can monitor the kids during training and transportation or could be a technically proficient industry expert who could potentially create a platform to pitch to their company and get donor funding. The strong church base in the area and faith-based organizations play a major role in helping in the sense of giving back to the community.

2)Create awareness

Building relationships with the NC state dept of education will very crucial in getting better visibility, getting an insider’s view and connecting with similar organizations. Dr. Mary Hemphill, Director of Computer Science and Technology is a great resource that CYC should tie-up with as she can play key roles in providing a platform for CYC to showcase its unique work. Rebrand NC initiative is one such organization where all the people who are working for similar cause including principals of schools meet up and discuss solutions for pressing needs. This is a great platform for CYC to pitch its idea and collaborate and potentially get funding. CYC should also aim at updating its website and its social media handles by collaborating with CYC alumni and the public schools that it is currently funding. Branding CYC’s social media accounts with hashtags can increase the organic reach and build its community. Ms. Debbie Vu can help CYC make a documentary video of the students building robots, thus helping them create more impact when they pitch their idea to donors. Additionally, CYC can also seek help from influential people and promote its cause by them.

Motivation: Government agencies could expand the network and could help get in federal funding, it may also open new doors in meeting potential sponsors. The delegates of such conferences are people who are working for a similar cause and this could lead to having collaboration with different schools and similar NGOs to fight for a common cause. Online presence is of utmost value in today’s world, as people do an internet search and gather information before offering help of any sort.

3)Raise donations

CYC is working for a unique cause unlike many other NGOs and they must leverage this fact and pitch it to donors. There are many organizations in an and round RTP which donate for various causes. Duke University has been a constant supporter of philanthropy and has donated $658,212 during 2018. The funds range from $1000-$5000 in various giving areas including schools to healthcare. Duke has given nearly 9000 different office supplies including computers in the last year, these supplies could help CYC improve the quality of tutoring.  The same idea can be extended to other philanthropist organizations.

Motivation: Donations are the core of any NGO and CYCs cause is huge and the funding is not sufficient. Donations need not be money always; it could be human capital or office supplies or even robotic parts. CYC is running short on human resources and monetary inflow. CYC should delegate the work of pitching the idea in front of potential donors to the student themselves, as this will have more impact, lesser efforts on one single person and help students grow technically and soft-skill development.

Proposed Metrics and Plan to Measure Success

After performing extensive brainstorming and analysis to dive deep into the root cause of the problem, we have proposed three approaches that will address the problem. However, metrics and method to measure success must be put in place to validate if the proposed solutions are effective.

The first recommended approach is building human resources. Compass Youth Center has been always short-handed and needs volunteers to mentor students. It can ultimately be deemed successful when Compass Youth Center fills all the position needed. However, it may take a long time before the positions get fully filled and Compass Youth Center may grow, and more positions may open. It may be difficult to put a strict metric on success, but metrics and timeline has been proposed based on analysis to validate the effectiveness.


Timeline for evaluating metrics

Creating awareness is a crucial part of the other recommendations and plays in hand to hand with them. Awareness is the most complex solution to place a metric as it is very volatile and difficult to predict. Building relationship with NC State Department of Education and Rebrand NC Education will be accounted to be successful if one agency reaches out to Compass Youth Center to share their resources. Currently on social media, there is only a Facebook page active with only 11 followers. Initial proposed metric to validate the increase in awareness through social media is to ensure the Facebook page and Instagram to be updated at least every week. The next goal is to increase the followers to 100 by the end of 2019.

Donation is important in assuring that the students have all the resources they need in order to compete in FIRST competitions. The majority of the cost comes from providing teams with the robotic components as well as a place to work and food to eat. It was found that average cost to support each team is $30,000/team for FIRST Robotics Competition, $5,000/team for FIRST Tech Challenge, $1500/team for FIRST Lego League and $1,000/team for FIRST Lego League Jr each year. There are additional costs involved, but the initial proposed metric to measure success is to maintain $100,000/year donations to cover the cost for the teams involved with Compass Youth Center (2 teams in FRC, 8 teams in FTC, 2 teams in FLL and 1 team in FLL Jr.). Financial board meetings should be held every year to budget the costs and plan for gathering donations (if not filled already). Every quarter meeting should be held to verify the current cash flow and develop action plans for the next quarter in case the target donation amount has not been met.


Understanding the concept of “What Wows”, we plan to test and refine the proposed niche solutions

For Validation and prototype testing, we plan to execute the strategized solution by selection of a single school to check, prototype and test

Tradeoffs and considerations

With all of these features and additions, we hope to help CYC achieve its mission of helping the community around it and build technology leaders for tomorrow.   This Project was one of the most fantastic Design Thinking projects that I have ever worked on. I would like to take a moment to thank Prof. Kathie Amato for her constant support and guidance and my wonderful teammates without whom this project wouldn’t be possible.

We were a team with Engineers and psychology with work experience ranging from zero to six.

The link to our final report recommendation can be found here: Design thinking final report_CYC

The link to our final slide deck can be found here:

Please comment your thoughts below and let me know any follow-up questions you have.

Thank you very much for your patient reading.