Smith College Profcast: Susannah Howe/The Design Clinic

Smith College Profcast: Susannah Howe/The Design Clinic


♫ Opening Music So I started at Smith in 2003. I was hired with the first group of seniors to launch the capstone design course, what we call Design Clinic, and the reason we call it Design Clinic is it’s modeled after Harvey Mudd to provide students a clinical experience, much the same that doctors and medical students in training to become doctors have a clinical experience, law students in training go through a law clinic so they get legal experience, we want our engineering students to have a clinical experience as well and work on real projects. It’s an opportunity for students to pull together what they’ve learned already in other classes and learn new material and dive deeper into a big problem, and the way that we run our capstone design program here in engineering at Smith is that students work in teams on projects sponsored by industry and government. So they’re working like engineers on applied projects for real clients, and that increases the level of accountability and responsibility and gives them some additional motivation for their work. One of the things that we do that’s a bit unusual, partly by nature of our general engineering science program, our bachelor of science and engineering science, we don’t have specific disciplines, and so we don’t have students all working on all mechanical engineering projects or all chemical engineering projects, and so the course as a whole represents the breadth of engineering disciplines, but any given project doesn’t, and so what I really enjoy about it is that I have a team of students who’s working on a mechanical and biomedical project, another team of students working on an environmental civil project, another team working on an electrical project, and they are all learning and sharing with each other. The other thing that I did do differently than many other places is that I have all the students together in the teams in one lab space. So each team has its own cubicle in the Design Clinic lab where they’re working, but there’s a lot of cross-project discussion that happens over the cubicle walls, because ultimately every team is going through the same general process, even though the method in which that’s implemented differs from project to project. So they share a lot with each other, and I started to realize the value of all of that sharing, and I decided to formalize it in the class. So this year I have seven teams, with a pretty broad range of companies. I think what’s particularly interesting for me this year is that three of the companies have alumni from our Smith engineering program as liaisons working with the team. And that’s particularly fun, because when they were students, they know the experience they went through, and now they’re out working in the world, and they are excited to connect with current students and they have a sense of how the capstone design course helped them and they can also give feedback into how to make the capstone design course better. One of the things I love most is that the projects span a very broad range of disciplines, of types of projects, kinds of companies, the past couple years I’ve done some collaborative projects trying to branch out beyond just engineering, and I’ve gotten some internal funding from the Design Thinking Initiative to include students outside of engineering in this experience. So last year we did a project with Baystate Hospital with one of their pediatric clinics, where students from engineering, anthropology and computer science were collaborating. So that was a such a successful collaboration that this year I have another one with Reid Bertone-Johnson in Landscape Studies, and the two engineering students are working on a team collaboratively with seven Landscape Studies students, then they are collaborating with the North Hampton Office of Planning and Sustainability on the design for parklets in downtown Northampton. And I feel like I’m able to help, I hope, help guide them and give them feedback on where they are and think about where their next steps are and help them navigate this process of working on a very chaotic, open-ended problem where there is a client at stake and they have to deliver something that a client ultimately will be happy with. I love that I get to know the students so well through the experience and feel like I can help launch them into the world and wherever they’re going next, and then to stay in touch with them as alumni and hear back from them and find out what they’re doing, and what aspects of the class and the experience they’ve been able to pull into their future lives. And it’s just, I love my job. (light ambient music)


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