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Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have officially welcomed their first cohort of 15 students pursuing a master’s degree in design engineering.
The program, which lasts two years, combines introductory courses, collaborative group projects, and a final, individual capstone project.
Prior to embarking on individual projects, degree candidates in their first year work in groups to develop an app, website, or other solution to a predetermined social issue. This year, students will be tasked with developing solutions to problems facing food systems.
Master in Design Engineering co-director Woodward Yang said the program aims to create well-rounded thinkers, as opposed to highly-specialized academics.
“[We’re] trying to get people who have some areas of expertise to sit together in a room with people with different areas of expertise, look at real world problems, understand that real world problems actually aren’t pointy,...learn from each other, and come up with a really good solution,” Yang said.
The current group of degree candidates draws from the design, engineering and business fields. All of the students have previous experience in at least two of those fields, according to Yang.
“That’s one of the most interesting and exciting things. All these students come from different and multiple areas of expertise and they’re interested in learning more,” Yang said.
Though the current program is small in number, MDE co-director Martin Bechthold said ambitions are high.
Bechthold said he hopes the master’s program will become the best in the field of “programs that address big, complex problems through teaching interdisciplinary methods.”
“The goal is to make the MDE something that, in 50 or 100 years, has become an established degree,” Bechthold said. “Today, the MBA is that and it started at Harvard, and the MDE may be the future MBA in its own field.”
Some current students were particularly attracted to the degree’s combination of distinct academic disciplines and professional skills.
“I think this [program] just gives you a really solid foundation of knowledge that applies across disciplines,” MDE candidate Julie Loiland said. “A lot of companies are looking for people who can connect the designers with the engineers with the business people and kind of bring it altogether, so I think this program will set us up well for being able to work across disciplines in the real world.”
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