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First-Year Seminar Helps Students Design Their MIT Experience

 First-year students participate in a hands-on class activity. Photo: Dave Darmofal

First-year students participate in a hands-on class activity. Photo: Dave Darmofal

An OVC-supported first-year advising seminar, 16.A01: Designing Your Life, is exploring how students can apply principles of human-centered design to design their MIT experience and create a life that is fulfilling, joyful, constantly creative and productive, and always holds the possibility of surprise. The course team is led by David Darmofal, professor of Aeronautics & Astronautics, and includes Sean Clarke (communication instructor and biotech liaison in the Department of Biological Engineering); Jennifer French (lecturer and MITx digital learning scientist in the Department of Mathematics); Sarah Meyers (education program manager in the Environmental Solutions Initiative); Erik Pavesic (assistant director for first-year engagement in Career Advising & Professional Development); Tianna Ransom (career development specialist in Career Advising & Professional Development); Barbara Williams (liaison librarian for the Departments of AeroAstro and Physics and visiting program officer for the Association of Research Libraries; Maria Yang (associate professor of mechanical engineering, undergraduate officer, and MIT D-Lab faculty academic director), and Lily Zhang (professional development manager at the Media Lab).

The team of instructors has used the breadth of their MIT experiences to adapt a curriculum—based on the book by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans—to suit first-year undergraduate students. The course covers how processes and mindsets from design thinking can help students create a life both at MIT and beyond that is meaningful, balanced, and fulfilling; the hope is that students will learn to welcome the sometimes unexpected opportunities and changes that life can bring.

So far, students have learned the fundamentals of human-centered design; applied these fundamentals to the design of a product; learned the importance of meaningful and effective networking relationships; identified their purpose and goals for college; and completed energy/engagement and wayfinding maps to help them design their time at MIT. Upcoming sessions will include even more prototyping, testing, and radical collaborations with MIT faculty, staff, students and alumni to help students identify their goals and develop plans of action to reach those goals.

—Tianna Ransom, Career Advising & Professional Development