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Zicklin MBA Student Sprints to Victory in International Design Contest

May 25, 2023

Melanie Hill-Cantey (MBA, ’25), a student in the Zicklin School’s Evening MBA program, led a team of Baruch and Brooklyn College students to victory in an international “design sprint” hosted by the University of Hertfordshire in England. The competition was facilitated and sponsored by Blackstone LaunchPad and the CUNY Office of Career and Industry Partnerships.

Photo of woman in braids next to image of open-air pavilion with vaulted honeycombed ceilings

Melanie Hill-Cantey helped design a multifaith pavilion for the Archbishop of Canterbury in England

A design sprint—a concept invented by a Google employee—is a five-phase, time-constrained process for efficiently solving business challenges, such as bringing new products or services to market. In five days, a team maps out the challenge, designs possible solutions, creates a prototype, and tests and tweaks it. “The idea is to solve a business problem using creative thinking,” explains Melanie, who is an operations manager in Brooklyn College’s School of Visual, Media, and Performing Arts.  

Melanie decided to pursue her MBA after more than two decades of working in higher education settings, both public and not-for-profit. “The corporate realm is very different from where I’ve been working,” she explains. “I felt I didn’t know enough about how the quote-unquote ‘real world’ works, and I thought an MBA degree would help fill in that missing piece in my professional background.” 

In the Hertfordshire Design Sprint, CUNY business and art students were partnered with architecture and design students in the UK to tackle business problems posed by various companies and organizations, including iconic British brands such as Parker Pens and Harris Tweed. Melanie and her team were randomly assigned a challenge posed by Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England. The Archbishop requested a design for a multifaith pavilion, to be built on the grounds of Lambeth, that would help ease the isolation caused by the pandemic by offering an “inclusive, beautiful, reflective, and transcendent environment” for tourists and international visitors.  

Melanie and her teammates called their winning design “One Voice Infinite Roots,” taking inspiration from shapes found in nature, places of worship, and contemporary architecture. Melanie, who also has a master’s degree in media arts, not only managed the project but also vetted potential designs.  

“I’m very creative, so I did a lot of thinking outside of the box about what I thought would look good or feel right,” Melanie says. “I’m a religious person myself—a Christian—and I knew the pavilion needed to be multifaith and beautiful but not too specific, so I encouraged my team to look into other, less familiar religions and religious practices to make sure we weren’t contradicting anyone’s belief systems and potentially offending anyone.”  

She also made sure to learn as much as possible: “When we met up outside of Design Sprint hours, it was very important for me to watch how the UK students used the modeling software. I’d observe the process on Zoom while they were rendering the designs so I could learn a bit about how it worked. Getting that exposure was extremely powerful, because learning about their creative practice widened my perspective.”  

Melanie has had her eye on the Hertfordshire International Design Sprint for a long time: “I first heard about it a few years ago, when I was in a previous job at Brooklyn College,” she notes. “I thought it was a fascinating idea. Fast forward to now that I am in my first year of the MBA program, I didn’t quite feel I was ready to dive into challenges and competitions.”  

But this time it was different, she admits readily: “Thanks to the Blackstone Launchpad becoming involved this year, the competition was opened up to all CUNY students. This was a pleasant surprise, so I thought why not, and I jumped on the opportunity to participate. I wasn’t even a business student when I heard about the design sprint. Then I not only ended up being in it, but my team and I won first place!”  

Melanie’s team each took home a one-year membership in Adobe Creative Cloud, a book called Design in the Age of Change by Gioko Muratovski, and an Amazon gift voucher worth 100 euros.  


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