STEAM Series panel

Design thinking is touching more and more aspects of our lives, from education to business and even the way society solves its problems, experts said during the latest panel discussion in the Sally Ride Science STEAM Series.

The event, “Transforming the Classroom Through Design Thinking,” was held June 1 at the San Diego Central Library. It was the second panel discussion in the Sally Ride Science STEAM Series, which is co-sponsored by UC San Diego Extension and the San Diego Public Library. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

A video of the discussion is available on UCTV.

Design thinking, also called human-centered design, calls for focusing on people in order to identify problems and solve them in the most effective way. Educators increasingly are using this mindset in the classroom to tap into students’ passions while enabling them to address problems in a diverse and interconnected world.

“Design thinking teaches students how to solve problems by empathizing with those affected by the problems,” said Ed Abeyta, associate dean of community engagement and director of pre-college programs at UC San Diego Extension, as he introduced the STEAM Series panel.

Moderating the panel was Dalouge Smith, president and CEO of the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory. The four panelists represented diverse fields where design thinking is growing in importance – education, business and the public sector.

STEAM Series panelists
The STEAM Series panelists were, from left, MaeLin Levine, Sonya Wrisley, Sharon Carmichael, John Bandringa, and moderator Dalouge Smith.
  • John Bandringa is director of the Port of San Diego’s new Enterprise Strategy and Innovation department.
  • Sharon Carmichael is senior interaction design manager at Intuit, where she leads 14 interaction designers working on the company’s TurboTax product.
  • MaeLin Levine is principal designer at Visual Asylum and a founder and board president of Urban Discovery Academy, a K-8 charter school. Levine also is helping to launch a design-thinking high school program called IDEATE High Academy.
  • Sonya Wrisley is founding principal of Design39Campus, an innovative K-8 school that is the first of its kind in the Poway Unified School District.

Diverse challenges

Carmichael, representing the business sector, described the central role of design thinking in Intuit’s operations. “We always start off every new project talking about what customer problem we are trying to solve,” she said. That approach has been integrated into all aspects of the company’s culture, including its hiring process, she added.

In the education sector, Levine said one challenge is selling parents on the advantages of design thinking. “It has been a struggle (for parents) to understand what design thinking is,” she said. Also, they naturally wonder, “How will their students do in college?” Such questions will be easier to address when there is more data on the effectiveness of design thinking in schools, Levine added.

Wrisley talked about the challenges of recruiting a teaching staff that understands design thinking. She noted that when student teachers come to Design39Campus, they must learn a new way of thinking about their vocation. “They need to look at classroom management in a different way. They have to look at how we’re bringing curriculum to kids in a different way,” she said.

Solving social problems

In response to a question from the audience, panelists reflected on how design thinking can be expanded beyond businesses and schools to help address social problems.

Levine described how one group of students became concerned about the plight of the homeless. The students spent an entire semester empathizing with the problems of homeless people in order to formulate possible solutions.

Carmichael predicted a growing role for design thinking in addressing social issues. “I think it is being interwoven into our everyday life,” she said. We are likely to see more government agencies and institutions using design thinking “to solve the overwhelming problems we have out in the world,” she added.

Bandringa summed up the theme of the panel’s discussion: “At the heart of everything we’re talking about today is creating an atmosphere where creativity is applauded.”

Sally Ride Science was founded by America’s first woman in space along with four like-minded friends to inspire students, especially girls, in science and technology fields. Sally Ride Science became part of UC San Diego in 2015. Its programs are coordinated by UC San Diego Extension, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

UC San Diego Extension and the San Diego Public Library are partnering on the Sally Ride Science STEAM Series with the aim of connecting diverse communities – educators, civic leaders, industry and the public – to promote equity and excellence and to help develop a talent pipeline that will foster regional prosperity.

The STEAM Series includes three panel presentations throughout the year. An awards gala in November will honor outstanding contributors to STEAM education.