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In final projects, engineering students tackle campus issues

Mar 11, 2014   |   by Caroline Hansen   |   The Dartmouth

For a final project in a design thinking engineering class, Sophie Sheeline ’16 and her team proposed a new social network called the “Granite system” to replace the Greek system. Freshmen would be sorted into one of 30 houses based on the results of Myers-Briggs personality tests, with each house containing various personality types. Basement vending machines would sell beer, and the proceeds would go toward financial aid stipends.

Sheeline’s project is one of eight in the class, an engineering course that focuses on human-centered design methodologies. The class shows students the “human side of the equation” in engineering and teaches them to address complex and pressing issues, said professor Peter Robbie, who teaches the course.

“Students define a problem, find the real need and then envision solutions for these problems,” Robbie said.

Students receive weekly design projects throughout the term and then spend the last two weeks on a Dartmouth-specific prompt that asks each group to solve a different campus problem.

Robbie said he thought of the idea after attending a workshop 15 years ago that focused on using human-centered design to study a population. This method has grown in popularity in the years since the workshop, he said.

The final project is especially pertinent for the design thinking course, he said, because human-centered design concepts are best used in a close and accessible population. Students’ passion for solving campus issues also makes the class material more relevant, he added.

At the end of the course, students can pitch their ideas to the College.

“It provides a window into student thinking,” Robbie said.

Projects range from encouraging meaningful faculty mentorship and increasing experiential learning to easing the “sophomore slump.”

Robbie said that the digitization of course evaluations was in part due to a previous design thinking project.

Patrick Campbell ’15 and Tara Roudi ’15, students in the class, are working on a project to ease the “sophomore slump.”...

...Michael Berger ’14 and his fellow group members are addressing mental health issues on campus, specifically stress and anxiety...

...Campbell said he has had a “tremendous” experience in the class this term, calling it “fascinating.”

“It’s not necessarily teaching you content, but it’s teaching you a process,” he said. “It’s teaching you a way to problem-solve that’s different from what most people experience, teaching you a set of very applicable skills.”

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