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Design Thinking in the Community 2020

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Ritchie School Communications Team

Engineering fueled by human center design

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Design Thinking in the Community

This fall Dr. Peter Laz’s course Design Thinking in the Community tasked Engineering students with becoming problem solvers. Merging design thinking, human centered design, and engineering design concepts with community service and outreach, his students created programs and projects that solve real-world problems. The teams all presented their work on Thursday, November 14 to faculty, staff, students, and the community; the projects were The Universal Experience - Promoting Visual Accessibility, Health and Fitness, Improving Student Safety, STEM Education Experiences, and Creative Thinking in Education.

The project The Universal Experience - Promoting Visual Accessibility worked to create a product that would benefit and help the visually impaired community. After much research, they moved from technology that was believed to be needed to instead producing something that was wanted by the visually impaired community. One main factor the team came across was the notion of how emotions are tied to different sensations, as well as how clothing can provide an outlet for emotions and expression. Their project led them to establishing Pastel, which creates clothing combining style, comfort, and provides universal sensations. Each design on the clothing tells a story to express an experience or emotion. This team produced two t-shirts—one telling of summer day at the beach and the other to represent the flowing mountain creeks in the Rockies— and will continue working to improve their designs.

The group for Health and Fitness wanted to address the challenges on campus that students face with diet, exercise, and general stress during their studies. By looking at different options available on campus already, this group was able to conduct three experiments to lead them to their next steps. Their experiments included a pop-up fitness challenge, a table talk with one of the D1 athletes, and a health food tasting during their presentation on November 14. Each of these experiments provided different feedback but also created ways for the group to consider how they will move forward in addressing their main challenges. Following their presentation, this group has established that they will be focusing on a community platform for people of all health and fitness levels to work toward living a healthier lifestyle.

The Improving Student Safety project was established to tackle the challenge of helping people feel and be safer around campus. The biggest challenge was to improve the impression of and relationship students have with Campus Safety. This group’s research first led them to the idea of creating an app that would streamline processes and access to resources for students, as well as provide more accurate assistance in times of need. Though the idea of the app would provide more access to resources to students, further research brought to light new struggles and challenges that would need to be addressed in order to create a functioning prototype. Without financial assistance and in the constraints of the class, this group is hoping to connect with other students to take over this app project, specifically in The Madden Challenge or through Daniels College of Business classes. The project transformed from simply access to resource for safety to improving the relationship between students and Campus Safety, which will take the efforts of students, administration, and Campus Safety.

The project STEM Education Experiences worked with Strive-Prep Federal Middle School where one of the group members previously helped start an after-school STEM club. This group hoped to address the structural and engagement challenges the STEM Club at Federal Middle School was facing. STEM Club’s primary purpose is “to increase accessibility to STEM opportunities for underrepresented youth in the Denver area.” To tackle their engagement challenges, the group worked toward the students having an interactive field trip so the students can experience the reality of STEM in the workplace. By working with one of DU’s alumni coordinators the group created a shortlist of companies that are open to hosting student groups. Before finalizing a location, this group is contacting and gathering more information so that they can provide the best experience for the students. Once their location is selected, STEM club will be able to learn firsthand how STEM disciplines can be applied after school and in real workplaces.

The final project, Creative Thinking in Education, focused on increasing interest in STEM in middle and high school students. To combat the challenge of how to get the students interested, the group created a prototype of hands-on lesson plans for professionals visiting classrooms. Their lesson plan was tested by Dr. Roszelle who was a guest for a high school intro to engineering class discussing fluids principles. To accompany the lesson, the group helped conduct three hands-on activities all related to the concepts Dr. Roszelle discussed. The hands-on activities were successful in engaging the students and provided a way to connect the concepts in the real world, leading to further interest in STEM disciplines. The group will continue creating different hands-on activities for industry professionals to accompany their material when visiting classrooms, as well as expand to other schools in Denver, to increase interest in students for STEM.

Each of these groups worked to create a solution for a problem that the community faces and they all produced some outstanding work. The teams worked through five phases of design, 1) discovery, 2) interpretation, 3) ideation, 4) experimentation, and 5) evolution. By working together and interacting with stakeholders in the community, each group was able to refine their design ideas for a better result. Dr. Laz believes the key takeaway for students is in recognizing the value of human-centered perspectives in the engineering design process. These students are ready to tackle the world’s problems and we can’t wait to see how their ideas will continue to grow.