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Design Thinking

From left, David Gurcay-Morris, associate professor of theatre at Williams College, Diane Scott, assistant professor of arts management at MCLA, and Spencer Moser, director of MCLA’s Center for Service and Citizenship.

A New Process for Problem-Solving


While lectures, lab work and papers are still very much a part of college life, a new process for problem-solving is gaining popularity in academia. Using methods from traditional science and the humanities, classrooms all over the country are now employing Design Thinking as a way to step back and understand multiple aspects of an idea or problem.

In August, the Feigenbaum MCLA Leads Initiative collaborated with Williams College Design Thinking Pilot for two days that centered on Design Thinking, collaboration and sharing ideas.

Hosted at MCLA’s Design Lab, the College’s dedicated classroom and community space at 49 Main St. in North Adams, the events mixed faculty and staff from both colleges, as well as academic professionals from schools like Dartmouth, Vassar, Columbia, Wesleyan University and Amherst College.

Members of MCLA and Williams’ Design Thinking advisory committees first spent a full day getting to know each other and participating in Design Thinking exercises led by William alumnus Eugene Korsunskiy, the coordinator of design initiatives at the University of Vermont.

The central questions of the summit: What are the Design Thinking-related goals each school cares most about? How can both schools work together to ensure those goals are met?

“The spirit of design thinking is inherently collaborative, so partnering with MCLA and regionally with folks who are practicing and embodying that spirit makes perfect sense,” said Rhon S. Manigault-Bryant, associate dean of faculty and associate professor of Africana studies at Williams.

“Our time together was not only well spent for the ways it provided us a moment to think collectively about what matters to our respective institutions, but more importantly, because it gave us the space and time to reflect on what matters to our communities,” Manigault-Bryant added.

Design Thinking is a perfect classroom tool at a liberal arts school; it’s an interdisciplinary means of problem-solving that borrows elements of ethnography, humanities and the natural sciences in order to gain insight and test solutions in the real world.

It also has found quite a following in academia. The process, which challenges participants to step back, develop ideas, reframe questions, and learn from data, naturally lends itself to academic classwork.

“This was a great opportunity to meet other academics and hear how they are using design thinking practices in their classrooms,” said Diane Scott, assistant professor of arts management at MCLA. “I left with many new ideas and ways to approach both my teaching and professional practice. Utilizing the design thinking process of rapid prototyping, my students are already experiencing these new approaches just two weeks into the semester.”

Some ideas for collaboration born out of the summit: using Design Thinking as a way to improve student services; an MCLA-Williams, Design Thinking-centered living and learning community; and “Berkshire Reads,” a countywide common reading program that could be administered by both colleges.