Resource:How to Take Over a Freshman Design Course

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Emma May is a design thinker. She interviewed students at her school to learn more about their needs for the freshman design course (EPICS), carefully noting their concerns and brainstorming how she could address them. The students felt the class was too stressful, and not giving them the teamwork and design thinking skills they needed to succeed. Emma knew from her UIF training that she could apply the changes needed to make the class more fun and engaging, to create life-long learners.

Emma is courageous. As a freshman, she approached the head of the engineering department and asked to lead the charge in improving EPICS. She has now taken on the task of co-teaching one section of EPICS, as a sophomore. Though she sometimes struggles with the new dynamic of teaching peers her own age, she’s pioneering the path for project-based, hands-on, creative, and design-thinking oriented education at her school.

Emma is open to new ideas. After every class meeting, she evaluates its successes and low points, with the intention of improving the class for the future. She is attune to the students’ personalities and experiences and not afraid to make big changes.

And most of all, Emma is a confident and capable University Innovation Fellow, who is passionate about teaching. She mentioned many times the skill-set she gained from the training, and how it’s changed her network and education trajectory. She’s changing the Colorado School of Mines education - one design thinker at a time.


Emma’s goal is to improve the freshman design thinking course (EPICS) to make it more engaging for students and give them passion and appreciation for the design thinking process. Short term, she is teaching one section of the course as a trial phase, where her goal is to revise the outdated curriculum, replacing PowerPoints with hands-on activities as often as she can. Longer term, she hopes her success can be used to remodel the entirety of EPICS.

Academic Permission

Academic permission may be required when trying to change a curriculum in a Design course. In a university, academic permission comes from faculty support, committee acceptance or even the administration. In Emma’s case, She got her permission from the head of the department.


Implementing such an intensive course in a curriculum requires lots of supports which is the most important part of the change. Emma had many supporters throughout her campus.

1.     Faculty- First thing Emma did was approach the head of the department who leads the design classes which was really intimidating for her. However, she showed her the reason why the curriculum should change and what are some changes they should implement. The head of the department loved the idea of hands-on work instead of being lecture based.

2.      Administrator- Over the summer she worked with the curriculum coordinator to find a way how they can use less PowerPoints and more engaging work. Their mission was to make the class more fun, engaging and make it a class that students want to come to. They went over the lesson plan to make sure that student are learning by doing.

3.     Students- If there are no student then there wouldn’t be any class. She has her own class of 18 with her department head where she implements her knowledge of design thinking that she learned from UIF training. Which led to student work with each other build team dynamic. Getting the supports of these students was really important for her.

Course Success

Emma’s positive relationship with her co-teaching professor was one of the key elements of her course’s success. Because the class already existed, it was very important that she integrated herself into the existing framework while maintaining enough agency to make the changes she wanted. The professor was very open to Emma’s ideas, perhaps because Emma exhibited so much enthusiasm from the very beginning. As a second semester freshman (!!!) Emma approached the department head with ideas on how to improve the class anddesign thinking credentials to back them up. Thanks to Emma’s proactivity and the professor’s openness, they had a great dynamic from the very beginning. They continued to meet on a weekly basis to plan the class.

It is very important to figure out the right person to talk to when trying to push an idea through--often times, this person is the department head because he/she has the power to actually okay or dismiss the ideas students bring. At the initial meeting, one must display a mix of enthusiasm, experience, work ethic, and desire to improve. Then, as the working relationship progresses, it is important to maintain clear communication and to meet at regular times.

Dealing with unexpected challenges and establishing respect

It is essential to anticipate unexpected challenges, especially in a classroom setting. Preparing for a course, always involves unknown factors. What will the students be like? How will they react to the curriculum? Ultimately, the answers to these questions are revealed in real time, and you must be able to adapt instantly. Emma stressed the importance of understanding and reading your students, to ensure they have a positive learning experience.

Being a student-teacher encompasses being both a peer, and authority figure. This according to Emma, is sometimes difficult to manage, as students will often treat the course less seriously given their close relationship with you. While it is important to establish good relationships with your students, Emma to ensure these bonds don’t hinder your ability to present material, and ultimately run the class.  

Tips For Others

Firstly, Emma insists on the human-centered process of design thinking. She believes that approaching the problem of the Freshman Design course in her university through the perspective of a student was particularly important. She kept the end user in mind. She kept asking herself “if I were a student in this class, would I find it fun? Would I be engaged?”. This has shifted her solution to the problem in her school.

Secondly, Emma remembered the value of being flexible while coming up with solutions to the challenges of the EPICS course. She stressed the importance of adopting a growth mindset; she was okay with not doing things right. For example, when she talks in the class and realizes she said something wrong, she is not afraid to switch from the middle of the sentence and restart.

Article wriiten by :

Taft W-K

Khandker Ahamed

Ajay Chandrapattan

Natasha Markov-Riss

Omri Gal

Mariam Bahamane

Conner Bender