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Human-Centered Design Program Gets Boost From Major Grant Funding

By Bradley Nelson

Group photo of students in a Human-Centered Design (HCD) class at Whitman College in 2024.
Students in the inaugural Spring 2024 HCD introductory course (HCD 101) with their professors, Justin Lincoln and Janet Davis (also pictured, Sharon Alker).

Whitman College will receive nearly $150,000 in grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support its Human-Centered Design program. The award was part of $26.2 million in NEH grant funding for 238 humanities projects nationwide. Whitman College is the largest grant recipient in the state, receiving $148,716 out of the $226,716 awarded in Washington during this grant cycle.

“I am beyond excited that the NEH recognized the value of what we are doing at Whitman with the HCD program,” says Sharon Alker, the Mary A. Denny Professor of English and General Studies.

“We are most appreciative for the support we received from Whitmans administration ... which demonstrated to the NEH that the college stands behind the program.”

Reimagining the World Around Us

Whitman’s Human-Centered Design (HCD) program launched at the beginning of the 2023–2024 academic year and allows students to add a concentration in HCD to any major.

The new area of focus combines multiple disciplines and encourages students to consider how people interact with the designed world. It is an approach to problem-solving that puts people at the heart of the solution. Every system, sculpture, survey and sidewalk was made by someone and for someone. And that means they can be redesigned if they are not working.

“Im particularly excited to collaborate with Whitman students from a wide variety of academic disciplines and local community partners,” says Michelle Janning, the Raymond and Elsie DeBurgh Chair of Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology.

“We hope to co-create designs that are mutually beneficial for everyone: student learning is enhanced at the same time local organizational needs are met,” Janning says.

HCD students first take the newly-developed HCD introductory course (HCD 101), then take four “Deepening” courses that can be from a range of different departments, and finally an upper-level capstone course (HCD 497) which will synthesize past coursework and result in a design portfolio.

HCD students are also required to complete a community-engaged Collaborative Practice Experience, which can be fulfilled in a number of ways—collaborative research, an internship, participation in a design lab or a community placement.

Forging New Paths Forward

The NEH grant will provide two years of support for faculty to design, refine, enhance and implement three components of the program: the deepening and capstone courses, the Collaborative Practice Experience and a Whitman Design Network Visiting Mentor program. Whitman also recently received a $100,000 donation from the Lawrence Parke Murphy Trust that will help fund the visiting mentor program beginning this fall.

“I am very excited to see how students put together their HCD concentrations over the next couple of years,” says Janet Davis, Professor and Microsoft Chair of Computer Science.

“These students will be pioneers forging paths through the HCD concentration: making connections with their diverse majors, discovering how design plays into their courses in the four Deepening Areas and applying lessons learned from HCD 101 in their Collaborative Practical Experiences.”

The NEH grant represents a collaboration across all three academic divisions at Whitman, with faculty contributions from Alker, Janning and Davis, as well as William Bares (Computer Science), Sarah Hurlburt (French and Francophone Studies), Justin Lincoln (Art) and Daniel Schindler (Theater).

Published on May 14, 2024
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