UNK professor Brooke Envick sparks student creativity with board – not bored – games

UNK management professor Brooke Envick uses board game design to give her students an experiential learning opportunity that sparks creativity, teaches teamwork and builds confidence. (Photos by Erika Pritchard, UNK Communications)
UNK management professor Brooke Envick uses board game design to give her students an experiential learning opportunity that sparks creativity, teaches teamwork and builds confidence. (Photos by Erika Pritchard, UNK Communications)



KEARNEY – Think about your favorite board game.

From Monopoly to Clue to Candy Land, these venerable games remain popular even as options such as Catan or Azul emerge. Each year, new games appear. And perhaps one day, the latest craze will be invented by students in an entrepreneurship class at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Management professor Brooke Envick uses board game design in her MGT 405: Creativity and Innovation course to give her students an experiential learning opportunity that sparks creativity, teaches teamwork and builds confidence.

Many employers report “creativity” is a prized and desirable asset. Job applicants are asked about their creativity and to describe a situation that demonstrates a creative solution. This can flummox applicants who may lack job experience in which their personal creativity was welcomed. College students may not recognize their own creativity, but, Envick notes, each of us is creative.

She describes creativity as those innate talents and personality traits that help you see the world in your own unique way. Personal experiences shape a person’s creativity; often those who have struggled are the most creative in finding solutions to barriers.

“These (creative traits) are almost as unique as a fingerprint,” Envick said. “And how people become confident is by using their skills.”

In thinking about how to teach creativity, she found a company that produces one-off game sets for as little as $35-$75, making it feasible for group projects.

“We can discuss case studies, but that doesn’t give them hands-on skills. This gives them an example of how they are creative. Gives them something to offer when asked ‘how are you creative?’ and affords the opportunity to engage in a multifaceted, fun and meaningful project.”


Game development teaches three aspects of creativity, Envick said. Conceptual creativity forces students to come up with a new idea that doesn’t infringe others’ intellectual property. Functional creativity involves writing rules, testing and revising based on user feedback. And visual creativity develops a look and feel that reinforces the concept and engages participants. That latter aspect can be challenging for business students more accustomed to using an Excel spreadsheet rather than InDesign.

Envick’s semester-long undertaking – called The Board Game Project – is divided into weekly assignments that hit those three creative aspects while keeping students on track. The first week, students take the Kaufman Domains of Creativity scale assessment that measures their self-reported skills in the domains of self/everyday, scholarly, performance, mechanical/scientific and artistic creativity. Envick uses these to assign students to balance teams so no one skill set is overweighted.

Students move through the semester identifying game type, themes, target audiences and a game name. They create the games’ rules and strategies. They exercise their functional creativity by designing the games’ layouts, playing pieces, cards and the mechanics of how the product fits in a box. Here they need to look at pricing of their items such as playing tokens, dice, play money, etc. to stay within their budget.

Each team develops a prototype that is tested with their intended audience. Feedback from this phase fuels revisions – most often on rules clarifications, levels of interactivity and even visual design.

Once this phase is completed, games are ordered. When they arrive, each team is the first to play their games, then games are played by others and evaluated. This, Envick notes, is one of the most fun and exciting parts of the process for the students.

“I’ve never had a problem with slackers in this class,” she said. “The project is fun; everyone has a role and they understand how that role is important and contributes to the project. And because their peers are evaluating the final product, they want it to be good. This emulates the real workplace where your work product is seen by your colleagues, not just your boss or the professor.”

Each student writes an essay describing their experiences and contributions, reflecting on what was personally meaningful, identifying new-to-them knowledge, and describing what they learned and how it might be applicable in the future.

This part is the most rewarding to Envick. Because she has the students’ Creative PsyCap self-evaluations from week one, she can see how each has grown during the semester. Usually, she notes, those scores shoot up in hope, efficacy, resilience and optimism.

“With creativity, a big piece of it is confidence. Somehow, as we get older, we tend to lose self-confidence in offering novel ideas,” she said.


Many of Envick’s students intend to return to their hometowns to take over a family business or farming operation. Students need to develop insights and critical thinking that will help them navigate the future. She noted that many of the businesses that have survived the pandemic have done so due to “out-of-the-box” thinking and strategies.

“Part of the reward is seeing them go back to their hometowns because it keeps those towns going.”

In a way, Envick has returned to her “hometown,” although she spent 40 years away. She is the third generation of her family to teach at UNK. Her grandfather, Maynard Envick, taught industrial arts from 1956-76 at what was then Kearney State College. While she grew up in Texas, where her father was a college professor, the family returned to Nebraska often to visit relatives in Kearney and North Platte. She remembers playing on the KSC campus.

Her father, Don Envick, returned to UNK when her grandfather needed assistance. Don founded the industrial distribution program and taught at KSC/UNK from 1987 to 2009. Brooke Envick was in UNK’s first graduating class, 1991, after it joined the University of Nebraska System. She earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees from UNK, then earned her doctorate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. There, her mentor was Fred Luthans, a legendary professor of management. His son, Kyle Luthans, professor and chair of the UNK Management Department, is now Envick’s colleague. Kyle Luthans says he viewed Don as a role model for success and a respected colleague.

Envick taught at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, for 18 years before returning to UNK in 2017.

Now a full professor and associate dean of faculty and strategic initiatives in the College of Business and Technology, Envick feels at home in Kearney.

“There are people here who knew my father and grandfather, and there are still professors teaching who I had when I was here. So it’s very cool to be a third-generation member.”

Title: Professor of Management; Associate Dean of Faculty and Strategic Initiatives
College: Business and Technology
Education: Bachelor of Science in management, University of Nebraska at Kearney, 1991; Master of Business Administration, UNK, 1993; Ph.D., University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1996.
Years at UNK: Five
Areas of research/specialization: Behaviors, Traits and Competencies of Entrepreneurs, 1995-2014; The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Entrepreneurship, 1995-2014; A Cross-Disciplinary Study of Entrepreneurship, 2002-15; Understanding and Strengthening the Link Between the Creative Person and Creative Performance through Design Thinking and Creative PsyCap, 2018 to present.
Courses taught: Organizational Behavior, Principles of Management, Compensation Management, Creativity and Innovation, Small Business Management, Acquiring Professional Skills.
Recent published articles: “The Small Business Continuity Template: A Strategic Design Tool to Sustain Recurring Revenue During Times of Crisis,” Global Journal of Entrepreneurship, 2021. “Put on Your Thinking Hats: An Experiential Exercise to Find Solutions to the Most Common Unethical Behaviors in the Workplace,” Journal of the Academy of Business Education, 2020.