Senior Design Challenge faculty receive award

by Hannah Jinks | 1/24/19 2:15am

 On Jan. 15, the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning announced that design thinking lecturer Eugene Korsunskiy and Thayer School of Engineering professor Peter Robbie won the 2018 Apgar Award for Innovation in Teaching for their “Senior Design Challenge” course. The new two-term course, Engineering 15.02, “Senior Design Challenge,” provides students with the opportunity to create solutions to real world issues, forge connections in industry and hone professional skills.

The Apgar Award for Innovation in Teaching rewards faculty members early in their careers for innovative teaching initiatives and recognizes courses that “cross traditional academic boundaries and that are likely to have practical applications in students’ lives,” according to the DCAL website.

“It was a really delightful and pleasant surprise to be recognized in this way for the teaching that we’re doing,” Korsunskiy said. “It’s great to know that Dartmouth values interdisciplinary experiential education of the kind that we strive to provide here at Thayer.”  

Students who have taken classes with Korsunskiy and Robbie said they appreciate the professors’ dedication to students’ learning. 

“[Robbie] created this amazing curriculum [in Engineering 12, “Design Thinking,”] that celebrates creativity,” Colleen O’Connor ’19 said. “[Korsunskiy] also empowers his students by granting them autonomy and shifting the focus away from grades [in the “Senior Design Challenge” course.]” 

Engineering 12, “Design Thinking,” is the prerequisite to the “Senior Design Challenge.” 

Piloted in 2018, the “Senior Design Challenge” is a capstone course available to seniors of all majors and counts for two credits toward the human-centered design minor. Interdisciplinary teams of students use human-centered design methodology to ideate and prototype a design project, Korsunskiy said. The course was formally approved after its pilot year and is now offered this winter and spring. 

Student projects are planned in partnership with community organizations across a broad range of industries, according to Korsunskiy.

The course collaborates with the Dartmouth Center for Social Impact to establish connections with client organizations. In the past, these have included Efficiency Vermont, Upper Valley Haven, The Dartmouth Institute, Peter Sheehan Diabetes Care Foundation and Burton Snowboards. This year, Center for Social Impact associate director Ashley Doolittle helped expand the list of organizations, Korsunskiy said.

According to the course website, the output of a team’s project can be anything — possibilities include a physical product, an app, a service, an experience, a brand or a startup.

During the winter term, students brainstorm ideas, research their chosen issue and analyze data. Their research includes engaging with their issues’ stakeholders and compiling information from secondary sources. In the spring term, students engage in an iterative cycle of prototyping, receiving feedback and refining. 

“The fact that it’s two terms allows students to dive deeply into the content [of their project] and become experts,” Jessie Colin ’18 said. “You’re able to develop relationships with the people you’re designing with and the users you’re designing for — and all the while, you’re a student.”  

Korsunskiy, Ashley Manning ’17 and Robbie worked together to create the class while Manning was still a senior at the College. Manning said her final project in Engineering 12, “Design Thinking,” taught by Robbie, “was the Senior Design Challenge.”  

“I started wondering why a course like [the “Senior Design Challenge”] doesn’t exist at Dartmouth,” Manning said. “Most of the [experiential learning] elements are already there. It’s just about rearranging what already exists.” 

Students who took the course in its pilot year conducted an eclectic array of projects. 

Madison McIlwain ’18 said her team worked with product managers at Burton Snowboards to design a landing page, which helps users navigate the company’s website. 

“We engaged with real companies and had real constraints that were very practical,” McIlwain said. “It’s very different from the theoretical knowledge you gain in the classroom.” 

Zoe Thorsland ’18 said her team introduced a feedback loop at the Upper Valley Haven, bridging the gap between service providers and users. 

“I loved operating in ambiguity,” Thorsland said. “Oftentimes in school, we have this strong framework where you have to solve problems in a certain way, but the solution was more ambiguous [in this class].”