Fine: Redesigning DTC

Simona Fine, Assistant Opinion Editor

Design Thinking and Communication, also known as DTC, is the dreaded two-quarter course sequence that McCormick students must take during their freshman year. On paper, DTC seems like a fantastic and innovative experience where teams of engineering students work with real clients to design a prototype in order to solve an assigned problem. In reality, it’s a stressful extended group project that can consume all of your time.

Of all the projects conducted by DTC students, there is one assignment that has never been tackled — fixing the course itself. Granted, thinking about all the issues with the current class took me more than the traditionally allotted week of brainstorming, but nevertheless, it’s been a design challenge that I’ve spent free time pondering over the past year.

In the current curriculum, groups are assigned and given a client to work with for the duration of the quarter. After learning about their client’s problem and researching any similar products, teams deliberate, construct and document a prototype. The class’s timeline only gives students one week to build their prototypes in the shop, while they simultaneously prepare their final papers and presentations, culminating in an insane amount of work to accomplish over a very short period of time.

This process is then repeated for a second, valueless quarter. During the first course, most teams work on projects proposed by the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a rehabilitation hospital in downtown Chicago. My group worked on an exercise mat that played music to help motivate our client, a child with cerebral palsy, to complete her physical therapy tasks. Assignments for the second quarter are a lot more varied and often are sponsored by on-campus individuals.

Taking the same class twice is needlessly repetitive, especially when the design process can be applied to other engineering disciplines. Instead of spending two quarters designing products in the shop, engineering design should be addressed in a different context for the second quarter of DTC. McCormick majors can roughly be divided into three categories: lab-based, shop-based and computer-based. Both quarters of the current DTC curriculum address shop-based engineering, but students should alternatively take three different classes, each of which would focus on one of these types of engineering.

Since the first-year engineering curriculum is already so tightly packed, lab-based engineers don’t usually have time to take a class more relevant to their intended field of study. I spent a year completing these basic McCormick courses without getting to dive into my major at all, and I was constantly questioning whether or not I wanted to remain in engineering.

Even though this system would theoretically add another course into the first-year curriculum, it would expose students to all aspects of engineering and give them a chance to gain experience in their own field. The issue of an additional class could also be solved by shortening the Engineering Analysis sequence, since the third quarter repeats a significant amount of material taught elsewhere.

Not only would this give everyone the opportunity to explore something related to their respective majors, but it would expand the students’ perspectives about how design, thinking and communication can be applied to a broader range of scientific applications. Engineering is more than constructing consumer products and building large scale items, but currently, that’s what the first-year curriculum largely covers.

McCormick students need to be given a chance to explore more of the fields that fall under the umbrella of engineering before committing to a select subject, and altering the DTC sequence would reduce the redundancy of the curriculum and provide this opportunity.

Simona Fine is a McCormick junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.