Student Creativity Unleashed Through New College of Design, Engineering and Commerce Integrative Design Process Course

One might not expect a bank to hire anthropologists to lay the groundwork for their next big breakthrough, just as one might not expect a University to lower the walls between its disciplines. But that’s exactly what Bank of America did in 2004 to create its popular “Keep the Change” program, a savings plan that millions have signed up for. And it is what Philadelphia University is doing with its innovative new curriculum in the College of Design, Engineering and Commerce (C-DEC), starting with the first-year course, Integrative Design Process (IDP).

According to a story about Bank of America’s Keep the Change program in BusinessWeek, a team of ethnography researchers spent two months observing ordinary people going about their daily lives, paying close attention to how they kept their finances. The researchers noticed that many people round up to the nearest dollar when reporting transactions in their checkbook. The Keep the Change program rounds up transactions automatically and matches the change in a savings account.

The executives at Bank of America didn’t know what product they would create before the research, but they did recognize the importance of finding problems to turn into opportunities. And, in the face of a large investment of time and money, they turned to creative thinkers who can analyze a situation and identify ways to create value.
This fall, freshmen in PhilaU’s C-DEC will take the first of four DEC core courses in the new curriculum, IDP, which was created to teach design thinking and cross-disciplinary research skills.

“This course is not an introduction to making things or drawing things, this is an introduction to design as a process,” Assistant Provost Heather McGowan said. Students will work in teams to find opportunities that currently exist in a variety of markets. “We have three core goals: to help students understand their own learning style, find problems and turn them into opportunities, and know that your first idea is not always your best idea,” McGowan said.

Through the curriculum, students will be introduced to design thinking and practice working collaboratively with classmates who have different areas of interest. And, while many first-year courses at other institutions are taught by adjunct or part-time faculty, Philadelphia University has commissioned full-time faculty and administrators to teach freshman IDP courses.

“The team teaching this first course has been preparing for more than a year,” McGowan said. “We have all full-time senior faculty and administrators teaching this course, which is very unusual in higher education.”

The University has also built an extensive network of executives and industry leaders as a support group to help develop the curriculum and infuse their knowledge into the course. PhilaU will bring many of these experts to campus over the next year to speak with students about the design process and inspire them to think creatively about hidden opportunities.

A team of eight of the most engaged industry leaders in the University’s networks have agreed to join the program as 2011-12 DEC Fellows, who will come to campus once or twice a year to lead workshops for faculty and students around their unique areas of expertise. DEC Fellows have already led faculty development workshops on creativity — using improvisational comedy — and design audits.

“The time spent with the team — both faculty and industry experts — over the past year has been exciting and intellectually stimulating,” said Ron Kander, Ph.D., executive dean of the College. “If the students get half as jazzed about the course as the faculty are, it is going to be a fun semester. This is clearly the most rewarding curriculum development exercise I have been involved in over the 20-plus years I have been in academia.”

Just as Bank of America researchers looked at a checkbook and saw an opportunity, through IDP and the other DEC core courses, PhilaU students will open their eyes to a world of possibilities.

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