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Whitman Approves New Concentration in Human-Centered Design

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Beginning with the 2023-2024 academic year, this new concentration will provide a framework for students to learn and apply human-centered design principles across disciplines.

Whitman College students will have a new area of study to choose from starting in the fall of 2023. The Whitman faculty announced a new concentration in the study of Human-Centered Design (HCD), which encourages students to understand the deeper meaning of objects, spaces, systems and beyond—and how to evaluate people’s interaction with the designed world. 

Michelle Janning“HCD threads together multiple disciplines at Whitman in order to wrestle with challenging puzzles in today's society, from climate change to accessibility and inclusivity in our digital and physical worlds,” says Michelle Janning, the Raymond and Elsie DeBurgh Chair of Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology. “I’m tremendously excited and honored to be involved.”

Faculty across divisions came together to create the new concentration, which engages critical thinking skills and equips students to create solutions to complex problems that have meaningful impacts on individuals and the environment. Students who opt for the HCD concentration will be able to pair it with any major at Whitman—and bring these modern problem-solving skills and abilities to their future workplaces. 

“This program contains a wide variety of courses across campus and students will have the opportunity to synthesize their learning in HCD courses,” says Sharon Alker, the Mary A. Denny Professor of English and General Studies. “I am looking forward to seeing students design portfolios to take out into the world and showcase their accomplishments.”

Sharon AlkerStudents will work with their advisors to chart a course across subject areas to complete the HCD concentration. Along with introductory and capstone courses, students will select one course in each of the following areas for a total of 8-16 credits: Understand People; Understand Artifacts; Observe and Evaluate; Design and Make. HCD students will also participate in an internship, community placement or other collaborative practice experience to connect their curricular and co-curricular learning.

Faculty members worked with numerous Whitman alumni working in the field of HCD for input on how best to provide this learning experience for students. 

“We are thrilled and honored by the enthusiasm that the alumni, students, administration and faculty have all shown for this project and will endeavor to make sure that this innovative program represents the best that the liberal arts can offer,” says Associate Professor of Art Justin Lincoln. “We will be working hard over the next few years to make sure that we cultivate creativity, inclusivity, flexibility and a strong focus on research and community.”

Designing a New Concentration

Justin Lincoln“The process of creating this program has itself been filled with iterative design and empathetic collaboration among students, faculty and staff—all elements of what we hope students will learn in the program,” Janning adds. “Student work in the program will involve hands-on projects that include people who ultimately will benefit from a design in the design process, whether it's a design of a digital or physical object, a space or even a social system or set of processes in an organizational setting.”

A concentration is different from a major in that it includes courses across a wide range of subjects that overlap with major and minor offerings. Concentration courses also count toward a student’s major or minor requirements, allowing for integration between what is learned from the concentration with the deeper expertise of the majors.

According to Janning, “If students want to study design at Whitman, they now have a formal and named way to do it that bridges disciplines, fosters inclusivity and prepares them for their future roles as innovative and compassionate design leaders in a complex world.”   

Other faculty members involved in creating the HCD concentration include Professor of French and Francophone Studies Sarah Hurlburt; Associate Professor of Computer Science William Bares; Associate Professor of Theatre Daniel Schindler; and Associate Professor and Microsoft Chair of Computer Science Janet Davis.  

More New Fields of Study

Along with Human-Centered Design, these new opportunities for students were also approved in 2022:

Brain, Behavior & Cognition (neuroscience). This new major integrates biology and psychology as they apply to neural science. Students will interrogate what, if anything, is special about the human brain, as well as study nervous systems—and behavioral complexity and diversity—across animal species.

Ethics & Society. Students are keenly interested in questions of how to act and interact with the people and world around them. Students who pursue this new major will explore philosophy through the lens of ethical and social issues, such as climate change ethics, criminal justice and punishment, biomedical ethics, animal rights, and racial and gender justice.

French+. This integrated program allows students to pair another major with French. Along with psychology, religion and sociology, two new options for these double majors were added in 2022: biology and geology.

Published on Jan 24, 2023
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