ID Alumni Lead National Progress as Presidential Innovation Fellows
By Thaddeus Mast
April 10, 2023
Every year a handpicked group of visionary leaders from across the United States convene in Washington, D.C., to imagine a better future for the nation. Over the past 10 years, three alumni from the Institute of Design (ID) at Illinois Tech have joined the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) cadre.
The PIF program was started in 2012 under the Obama Administration “to attract top innovators into government, capable of tackling issues at the convergence of technology, policy, and process.”
Jed Wood (MDes 2005), along with thousands of other industry experts, enthusiastically applied. He was among 17 experts ultimately admitted to the first PIF group and was placed on the RFP-EZ project that aimed to develop an online marketplace for easier and cheaper collaboration between tech companies and government agencies. The project tested his skills and his ability to learn on the fly, which were encouraged during his time at ID.
After the year-long program in the nation’s capital, Jed’s main takeaway was that collaboration in a sometimes stagnant environment is key to moving forward.
Jed became the first ID graduate to join the program, but he was not the last. ID prides itself on small classes with high collaboration and personal guidance, and its graduate school has the most alumni in the PIF program for its size. Now, a unique new dual-degree program—the Master of Design and Master of Public Policy and Administration (MDes + MPPA)—focuses on preparing students to effectively address complex civic and social challenges.
Steven Babitch (MDes 2007) was selected in the 2015 PIF group, where he used his expertise in human-centered design in a nascent program that aimed to inject design thinking and modern product techniques into government. He was assigned to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and tasked with developing a portal through which it could share threat intelligence with American corporations at risk of cyberattacks, economic espionage, or other schemes.
Angelo Frigo (MDes 2003) is the latest Presidential Innovation Fellow from ID, joining the 2020 cohort with less than two dozen other creative thinkers. He was attracted to the program after seeing the results of prior PIF groups, particularly the work that resulted in the healthcare.gov program.
PIF Class of 2020
A background in developing a digital customer ecosystem for McDonald’s that included mobile ordering and drive-thru connections proved Angelo’s expertise in connecting physical and digital environments.
Angelo points to the late ID Distinguished Professor Emeritus Chuck Owen when describing the foundations of his design process learned at ID: “breaking down complex systems and abstracting goals to allow for creativity at each intersection.”
Angelo partnered with the Office of Management and Budget to improve the public’s experience of federal agencies—in this case, treating the public as customers who should have a fully satisfying experience with their federal government.
Dean Anijo Mathew traveled to DC in March to meet with the Office of Management and Budget and discuss how it and other agencies might adopt more design-led innovation at the federal level.
The kind of design practiced at ID, where human-centered design and systems design were pioneered by people like Chuck Owen and Vijay Kumar, have since been widely adopted by large, forward-thinking businesses.
Today, the PIF program, ID’s Graduate School and Academy classes in Civic Design, as well as an increasing interest among students in the public sector, demonstrate design’s increasing influence and demand in government, nonprofit, and policy work.