QEP is DIVE: explained

Vanderbilt ready to roll out DIVE, a Human Centered Design program

As mandated by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the institution responsible for accrediting Vanderbilt, the university will be implementing its decennial Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) in the fall.

Accreditation by the SACSCOC is crucial for Vanderbilt to have access to Title IV financial aid. Title IV financial aid includes loans, Pell Grants and Federal Work Study. In order to be accredited by SACSCOC, Vanderbilt must implement a QEP every ten years with the goal of improving student learning.

“It’s important that Vanderbilt’s QEP be derived from the university’s mission and strategic planning processes,” said Elizabeth Boyd, Project Manager for the Vice Provost for Learning and Residential Affairs. As a result DIVE is designed to work hand-in-hand with Immersion Vanderbilt, an essential aspect of the 2014 Academic Plan, which also includes the development and implementation of iSeminars.

You try to think of crazy ideas and that most outlandish thing, not because that’s what you’re going to use, but because it can trigger creativity in somebody else.

The previous QEP was the Vanderbilt Visions program, which welcomes first-year students to the Vanderbilt community. In the fall, Vanderbilt will be rolling out the new QEP, Design as an Immersive Vanderbilt Experience (DIVE), a program focused on teaching students to implement Human Centered Design, a process that begins with meeting people and ends with creating a solution to an issue encountered by those people, to interdisciplinary, real-world issues.  

“[DIVE] started with an idea from me to design things for the community in Nashville and from Will Berger, who’s a sophomore Engineering Science major, who wanted to teach Design Thinking to students,” said Dr. Lori Troxel, Associate Professor of the Practice in the School of Engineering and DIVE Initiative Director.

Berger was, and continues to be, one of the driving forces behind DIVE, primarily focusing on marketing DIVE to the student body, giving rise to the “QEP is DIVE” posters around campus, and earning him the nickname “DIVE Dude.” Will saw the initial email last year calling for proposals for the QEP. A self-described “design nut,” Will saw this as an opportunity to teach about Human Centered Design and share his passion with others.

“If I can do that for the rest of my life, I can be happy,” Berger said. “It gave me a calling.”

Human Centered Design is composed of five steps, which DIVE is hoping to teach to students from across the University. Characterized by the initial interviewing phase, Human Centered Design encourages building empathy with the anticipated beneficiary of the solution. The remaining four steps are defining the problem, brainstorming, creating a prototype and testing the proposed solution. Usually performed by interdisciplinary groups, the brainstorming process is often very creative and insightful.

“You try to think of crazy ideas and that most outlandish thing, not because that’s what you’re going to use, but because it can trigger creativity in somebody else,” Troxel said, while displaying a board covered in sticky-notes, which she said is an incredibly helpful way for a team to brainstorm.

Berger used a theoretical example of developing safer bus seats for public transportation in the city. After speaking with bus riders, drivers and other bus “experts” a team could convene and deduce that buses in the Nashville area are not safe enough. After hours of brainstorming, the team believed that a velcro seat would be the best solution. The team would then create a prototype and bring it back to the bus “experts” for testing. If the testing reveals issues with the prototype, then the team can easily cycle back to any point in the process and develop something else.

There is value in failure.

“There is value in failure,” Berger said. “We want students to develop the ability to identify problems and have the creative confidence to design solutions.”

Citing the lack of room for failure in college, Berger sees DIVE as a great opportunity to have students work to better the surrounding community without the pressure of failing weighing down their creative potential.

Unlike Visions, which has student meets for an hour a week in the groups, DIVE, which is completely voluntary, will have a large co-curricular component. Students will be able to get involved with DIVE via 4 main avenues: boot camps, co-curricular projects, projects in classes, and a unique University course.

“DIVE has a broad scope, because students, faculty, and staff from across the university can participate in DIVE through the Boot Camps,” Boyd said.

The Boot Camps will be half-day immersive experiences in which participants will work in multidisciplinary groups to complete two design challenges.  

In addition to the boot camps, DIVE will be teaming up, in the fall, with the Office of Active Citizenship and Service to allow students to participate in co-curricular projects, in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office and local not-for-profits, to aid the Nashville community in the areas of food waste, glass recycling and assisting new Americans and affordable housing, among others.

Other projects will be added as DIVE grows. DIVE hopes to add up to ten projects through the Library Fellows and work with the Curb Center and other organizations to broaden the areas where Human Centered Design can benefit others.

Our hope is that it will spread informally as well, so that student organizations can start using this to improve their organizations.

A current class, History of Fashion, is integrating Design Thinking to come up with clothing to boost student happiness. Troxel hopes that some of the ideas, such as the use of specific colors and fabrics, generated by the students will be used by the Center of Student Wellbeing to aid with stress relief, among other possibilities.

The DIVE Finalization Committee has also crafted a new course titled “Design Thinking, Design Doing” that will be taught by Peabody professor Rogers Hall and Owen professor David Owens. The class will teach Human Centered Design, mainly through projects, and emphasize that there is always something to learn every time a student goes through the design process.

“Our hope is that it will spread informally as well, so that student organizations can start using this to improve their organizations,” Troxel said. She hopes the DIVE program curriculum will permeate its way into how organizations operate and go about realizing their goals.