In the Spring of 2015, I traveled to Belgium to do a semester-long independent study in engineering education and to incorporate design thinking and collaboration into university engineering programs. I used qualitative research techniques to study the current state of the bachelors and postgraduate programs at two renowned universities in Belgium, KU Leuven and Thomas More. At my first classroom visit, the students gave a mid-year update on their project. Although they were supposed to have a component of user centered design, one of the students failed to even articulate who his users were! The professors were lost, arguing that they provided the students readings on the method. In this moment, I realized that since the professors themselves had never experienced the design process, they were not able to effectively teach it. In response, I ran workshops for the teaching team where they used the design process to develop their curriculum, bringing the theories the professors were attempting to teach into practice. I converted their office into a design space, with butcher paper and post-its covering the walls, in which user interviews drove the brainstorming content. I provided the professors the exposure to the design process required to internalize how to teach the process to students. This experience helped me realize the importance of exposing STEM and design teachers to innovative learning styles and provided me the opportunity to reflect on the challenges of transforming heavily constrained traditional programs into innovative classrooms. In the end, the experience allowed me to impact the programs in two Belgian universities, as well as learn about conducting independent research, gathering and processing data, writing proposals, and developing workshops.
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