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SEAS and Design School Launch Joint Master's Degree

By Zara Zhang, Crimson Staff Writer

The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Graduate School of Design will open applications to a new collaborative two-year master’s program in design engineering this fall, according to SEAS spokesperson Paul Karoff.

The program, first reported by The Crimson last spring and called the Master’s of Design Engineering, is intended for professionals who demonstrate technical literacy and have at least two years of work experience in engineering, design, government, or business, according to a press release.

“Students are not required to have experience in engineering or design; they need to show they have the capacity for it,” said K. Michael Hays, co-director of the program and an architectural theory professor at the GSD. “Eventually we may also be accepting some people from backgrounds like business and public health.”

Woodward Yang, the program’s other co-director and a professor at SEAS, said that in its inaugural year, the program will accept 12 to 20 students, and that classes will begin in the fall of 2016.

According to Yang, the new degree will train students to work collaboratively to come up with interdisciplinary solutions to real-life problems. During the program, students will take the equivalent of four courses per semester, including a studio course and a “core” course on topics like entrepreneurship, intellectual property, and leadership. They will also complete a thesis-like design project in their second year.

“It’s important to know how to be creative in the solution of a problem, not creative for being creative’s sake—that’s art,” said Yang, who teaches electrical engineering and computer science. “What we are interested in is being creative in solving real big problems, not ‘How do I make an engine more efficient,’ but more like ‘Why do we have engines in the first place.’”

According to Hays, conversations about the introduction of a collaborative master’s program began three years ago. The process of getting through the various administrative hurdles, though long and arduous, was constructive to the refinement of the degree’s proposal, he said. Following a vote by the faculty of both schools, the Harvard Corporation approved the program this summer.

Each school has agreed to hire new faculty to support the program, Hays added.

The new degree will join only two other existing terminal master’s programs at SEAS, one in Computational Science and Engineering, which focuses on data science and was introduced in 2013, and one in Electrical Engineering, which according to the school’s website offers admission only in “exceptional circumstances.”

The dearth of master’s programs at SEAS is not due to lack of enthusiasm or funding but of space, Yang said.

“I’m sure that by moving to Allston, the new space will allow us to have more opportunities,” he added, referring to the relocation of the majority of the school’s teaching areas across the Charles River that is slated for 2019.

Hays said he hopes that the whole MDE program will eventually be taught at the Allston campus, where more innovative learning spaces will likely be created.

Currently, the GSD offers joint degrees with the Kennedy School and the Law School, and a joint program with the School of Public Health is being discussed, according to Hays.

—Staff Writer Zara Zhang can be reached at zara.zhang@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @zarazhangrui.

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