As almost every year, this year the CDTM offered the popular Center Venture elective again. Despite the challenging situation due to COVID-19, the two-week elective in a hackathon format took place in a hybrid setting resulting in two impactful project outcomes. Following past topics such as entrepreneurship in robotics or student housing this year’s Center Venture focused on the problem space of student’s mental health in cooperation with TUM4Mind and Make Munich Weird.

What is an elective at CDTM again?

As part of the CDTM curriculum, every student has to take part in at least three electives. Electives cover a variety of topics and are designed to complement the core courses by offering students the opportunity to deepen their knowledge in an area of their choice. Their format ranges from spread out sessions over a semester to intensive hackathons. You can find out more about the CDTM study program here.

Student’s mental health, an overlooked topic?

To understand the problem space, the Center Venture began with an input lecture providing background information on mental health. We learned that in recent years the number of diagnosed mental diseases of students in Germany has increased significantly (Barmer Arztreport 2018) and that one in four students feels strongly stressed (Techniker Krankenkasse, 2017). This issue is currently only partly addressed in Munich by offerings such as our partner TUM4Mind’s awareness week organizing self-help online workshops.

Besides, we received further input from our second partner, Make Munich Weird, a transdisciplinary platform organizing initiatives that activate spaces and foster diversity for a more livable Munich. Keeping the aspect of physical space in mind we learned from Chrissie Muhr, Creative Director at Vitra, how rooms are influencing mental wellbeing, and from Prof. Isabell Welpe about the history and principles of hacking.

How can we create awareness and shape an open dialogue?

Now having a better understanding of the problem, we set ourselves the goal to facilitate a lasting open dialogue about mental health within our universities. To achieve this, we applied our creativity and technical skills to hack student life in Munich through physical and digital dimensions. To come up with specific ideas and to ensure user-centricity we used a design-thinking approach following the double diamond process.

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If you study at CDTM you will encounter this graphic a lot of times…

In the first phase, we listed our worries and topics that we are struggling with and tried to identify their underlying factors and drivers. We then looked for patterns and clustered them into four related topics that you can see below.

Our sources of worries and struggles

Based on the identified problems we came up with a toolbox of solutions by asking ourselves for an advice we would give our best friends in case they were to face that problem.

Toolbox to solve the identified problems

In the last step of the ideation process, we then combined the identified problems and the toolbox to ideate projects that address all students in Munich and cater to their needs. By prioritizing according to impact and feasibility with respect to our limited time during the Center Venture we then chose two out of our 24 ideas, namely the Wall of Failure and Meet Other Students, which we immediately started implementing. Within 20 hours we created two websites, did a guerilla marketing campaign, got a partnership with a café, put up two physical walls of failure, marked a designated meeting bench and had a lot of fun. This once again showed us how little you actually need to change something.

Using a world café approach, we came up with 24 separate ideas

Wall of Failure

In our performance-driven society, there is a missing dialogue about failure and setbacks. They are seldomly publicly shared and people don’t like to talk about them even though failures are a natural part of our life.

The Wall of Failure addresses this issue by offering a space to anonymously collect and share stories about failure from students for students. Our goal is that this leads to more open communication about expectations at university and that students feel less pressured. The Wall of Failure exists in physical versions at the Technical University of Munich and the University of Munich as well as in the form of a website and a newsletter. You can find the website here: https://wall-of-failure.org.

One of the two physical walls in front of TUM’s Mensa Arcisstraße

Screenshot of the virtual Wall of Failure

Meet Other Students

Munich is home to over 100,000 students, many of them international, attending several different institutions. Due to the current restrictions related to COVID-19, it is very difficult for them to get to know new people. Especially many of the students who recently moved to Munich feel isolated and are looking for ways to establish new contacts.

Meet Other Students is a Slack community that solves this issue by randomly matching students on a one-on-one basis every week. Students have the chance to meet virtually or in-person, depending on which Slack channel they join. So far over 300 students have joined the community and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

You can find more information on the matching process and a link to join the community here: https://www.meetotherstudents.org.

Overview of the matching process

Students warmly welcomed the idea

Last but not least, a résumé

This year’s Center Venture was special in some ways. It was the first one to take place in a hybrid format – something rather challenging for a hackathon with a physical component. It was also the first time that a serious and pressing issue such as mental health was addressed with none of us being experts in this field. Judging by the feedback that we received when presenting our solutions on multiple occasions we can see, however, that we were able to achieve our goal of sparking discussions on student’s mental health and create awareness. Thank you very much to everyone who contributed to this year’s Center Venture and made the elective possible!

Matthias Heinrich Morales (Spring 2020)