New design course in store for sophomores

Sept. 28, 2012, 12:39 a.m.

The class of 2016 can anticipate a new course offering next year from the Institute of Design called Designing Your Stanford, which will apply elements from the popular Designing Your Life course to help underclassmen make the most of their Stanford experience.

According to Dave Evans, an instructor for Designing Your Life and one of the faculty leaders for Designing Your Stanford, the idea for the course came out of student interest – sophomores were often caught sneaking in to the upperclassmen-only Designing Your Life to map out their life after college.

Given this interest, and results from the Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES) report that concluded sophomores need more resources for navigating course offerings and time to reflect on their interests, the Institute of Design and SUES committee began to discuss creating a course that would help sophomores map out their Stanford career, according to Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Harry Elam.

“We want to give students more tools to reflect on their values and goals, and to think about their educational plans in this context,” Elam wrote in an email to The Daily. “We hope this class will provide some of these tools.”

Evans said that planning formally began over the summer and is still underway. A pilot course comprised of selected sophomores is expected to launch this spring, followed by a regular course launch next fall. Other members of the planning committee include Executive Director of the Design Program Bill Burnett, other faculty members, seniors who had taken “Designing Your Life” and four interns from the Class of 2015.

According to intern Andrew Rodriguez ’15, the summer work consisted of brainstorming sessions, modeling prototype exercises for the class and reading literature on developmental psychology and transformational learning.

One of the prototypes Rodriguez described included inviting sophomores on campus to select five potential majors from a list of all of the majors Stanford offers. They were instructed to choose one major that they never would have considered before, or one they had not even known existed.

The students then had to explain why they chose the unusual major, often an academic interest they wanted to pursue but wouldn’t necessarily commit to as a major. They were given alternative ways of fulfilling this interest by talking to professors in the field, reading research papers on the subject and joining affiliated student groups, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez and the other interns were asked to participate in the summer planning because of their participation in a seminar called Reflections, which was offered last winter and will return this year.

The students met once a week in sections for 90 minutes for no academic credit to “stop and think about what they want in the larger context,” Rodriguez said.

Because of his fulfilling experience in Reflections, Rodriguez said he jumped at the chance to participate in the creation of a course that he feels is necessary for underclassmen.

“It’s not just about encouraging people to think more, because everyone wants to think more, but it gives you different ways to think about how to approach the decisions you have to make in your college life,” Rodriguez said.

Elam said that at a time when students are working on declaring their major, the course would provide a great resource due to its design roots.

“Design thinking is cross-disciplinary, and we think it can be a useful tool for students intending to major in any field,” Elam said.

Evans echoed Elam’s perspective on the application of design to any major, adding that in a “post-Web 2.0 world,” innovation principles are particularly critical to students’ education.

“Other parts of the world are going to beat us at manufacturing, other parts of the world are going to beat us at a lot of things,” Evans said, “But clearly a core competency should be creativity and innovation in North America in general, in Silicon Valley in particular, and in the hub of Silicon Valley which we tend to think of as Stanford.”

As planning continues on through the spring quarter pilot, Evans hopes that students will get excited for this opportunity and that it will serve the purpose for which it was designed.

“If we develop something that meets a real need and is fun, valuable and useful, then students take care of the rest,” Evans said.

Ileana Najarro is the Managing Editor of News at The Stanford Daily. She previously worked as a News Desk Editor and Staff Writer.

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