Incoming course will apply thinking to ocean solutions

Nov. 27, 2018, 1:40 a.m.

In DESINST 250: Oceans by Design, the Stanford and Center for Ocean Solutions (COS) are collaborating to apply human-centered design thinking to sustainable solutions for ocean issues. The three-unit course will focus on three such issues — marine pollution, overfishing and climate change — and will be offered in winter to between 20 and 25 graduate students, undergraduate students, fellows and post-docs chosen from an applicant pool.

DESINST 250 will be taught by teaching fellows Erika Woolsey, Kevin Chand L.L.M. ’17 and Lesley-Ann Noel, who collectively possess expertise in marine biology, law and design respectively.

During the course, students will work on three group design projects related to each subtopic, eventually pitching their designs to the COS. Each project may take one of many forms, selected by the students, such as a product, program or policy.

“We will give you a broad question, but your group is going to find a specific question around your interest and your area of expertise,” Noel said. “Everybody’s solution is going to be completely different … That’s the beauty of design education, that there are no right or wrong answers and it’s really your experience that leads to a solution.”

Woolsey said the teaching team is also interested in incorporating emerging tech into the course. Students will learn about the concepts behind fields such as machine learning, AI, VR and blockchain.

Students may extend their projects beyond the limits of the course, on their own or through independent study with the teaching fellows, the COS or both. The teaching fellows said they are excited by the potential results of the course.

“At the UN, all you see is a lot of negative rhetoric around the oceans and how bad everything is,” Chand said. “Coming here I want to see more innovative ideas that can be put into policy to create some impact, and I’m hoping that comes out of the class.”

The course is the first collaboration between the and the COS. Eric Hartge, the COS research development manager, said that — since a leadership change in April — the Center has been working to incorporate design thinking and a user-centered approach to ocean solutions. director Sarah Stein Greenberg MBA ’06, a diver and ocean photographer, said that the has been thinking for a long time about what it can do to address global climate change issues, and that the school decided oceans are a good place to start.

“[DESINST 250] is one component of addressing that larger vision of how design can show up and start participating in the movement around climate change,” she said.

Hartge said that the topics of marine pollution, overfishing and climate change were chosen as course issues because they are representative of the wider range of issues facing the world. He said he feels these are areas where design thinking principles can be applied towards developing solutions and where emerging technology can bring in a lot of added value to better understand and find solutions.

Hartge, Stein Greenberg and the teaching fellows said they wanted to open the course to a wide range of students from various backgrounds and programs in order to foster fresh perspectives and innovation.

“We anticipate some areas of common interest, but we are really hoping for a diverse group [of students],” Noel said. “We anticipate some engineers, scientists, GSB, law students, but we also want some people from humanities, arts, because it’s that mix of people that gives you the best solutions.”

Woolsey also stressed the importance of bringing together people from a variety of backgrounds to discuss ocean issues.

“I think there’s more need for people who don’t become marine biologists to know about marine biology,” Woosley said. “People who become the policymakers, and the politicians and the business owners need to understand what these ocean issues are and how life on this planet relies on what we do regarding oceans.”

The’s year-long teaching fellowships, according to Stein Greenberg, are a way for the school to bring fresh perspectives and ideas into curriculum and classes. The Ocean Design Teaching Fellow program is co-hosted with the COS, marking the first time that the has brought in a mix of people with expertise in design and another particular area.

“We’re trying to combine two very complex topic areas that can be understood in different ways by different people and blend them together just to see what happens,” Hartge said. “[We want] to help unpack the mystery and the romance and the beauty of these two systems and see what comes together. We feel that there’s an opportunity for it to be more powerful than just the sum of the parts.”

Applications for DESINST 250 are due this Friday. 


Contact Emily Wan at emilywan ‘at’

Emily Wan '22 is a writer for the Academics beat from San Jose, California who plans to major in East Asian Studies and minor in Translation Studies. Her main interests include literature, languages, music and puns. Contact her at emilywan 'at'

Login or create an account

Apply to The Daily’s High School Summer Program

deadline EXTENDED TO april 28!