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Brown collaborates with RISD to create new joint master’s program

The master of arts in design engineering program emphasizes a multidisciplinary approach in product design

The University collaborated with the Rhode Island School of Design to launch a new joint master of arts in design engineering program, which will begin in the summer of 2021. The program aims to bring together industrial design and engineering by combining the resources of both institutions to provide students with a mindset and skills to build functional, user-friendly objects.

The program will be administered by the RISD Architecture and Design Division and the University's School of Engineering. As an intensive, 11-month residential program, MADE aims to have an 18-student cohort for its first iteration, said Christopher Bull ’79 MS’85, senior lecturer in engineering and the program’s co-director. Students are expected to work primarily in small studios and workshops to collaborate in finding solutions to small- and large-scale challenges through interdisciplinary approaches, with topics ranging from public health to climate change, according to the University's press release.

MADE "focuses on learning rather than teaching, … how to listen and integrate different perspectives into the work that we do," Bull said. "We are trying to let people use what they already know and share what they already know, and develop robust ways of working together."

The idea of creating a design engineering program began a few years ago with the University and RISD's faculty members, including Bull; Khipra Nichols, head of RISD’s Department of Industrial Design and program co-director; and Andew Law, associate professor of industrial design at RISD. The fruition of the program came as a result of cross-institutional collaboration, support from University administrators and changing industry needs.

Inspiration for MADE emerged when Bull, Nichols and Law discussed a program "that both institutions would benefit from and … participate in, rather than it being lopsided” like earlier proposals, Bull said.

"We should have designers interested in engineering and engineers interested in designing," Law said. The program grew out of the consideration of whether there were “enough people interested in learning how to collaborate in an engineering-design context,” he said.

Realization of the program came from administrative endorsement of the two institutions: Provost Richard Locke P'18 and Provost of RISD Kent Kleinman both approved of the proposal. "Their support was key to getting the institutions behind it and being able to broaden it from individual faculty to a larger group," Bull said.

Other than institutional support, insight from the industry also helped with the formation of MADE. To understand the trends and development of the industry, the core founding members of MADE talked to venture capitalists and designers from companies like Andreessen Horowitz, EPAM Continuum, McKinsey and Company and IBM Design. 

"We talked about what it would look like to work in design and engineering in 10 to 20 years, what kinds of problems would people be working on, what kinds of skills do they need," Bull explained. 

"There's a demand in the marketplace. You need a liberal artsy view of this … (and) I think this is a fabulous combination," said Deborah Mills-Scofield '82, mentor of the MADE program and a strategy and innovation consultant.

Through each iteration of MADE, RISD and Brown faculty will work together to refine the program. "In some ways, our development of the program mimics what the program is going to be," Bull said.

The MADE program includes faculty from different backgrounds, which echoes the approach of multidisciplinary teaching and learning. R. Iris Bahar, professor of computer science and engineering and a faculty member of the MADE program, has been looking into additional ways of incorporating design into engineering and computer science. In her upcoming spring course ENGN 1931I: “Design of Robotic Systems,” Bahar finds it "exciting" to work with students from engineering, computer science and RISD. "This (collaborative process) lets students tackle real-life problems from a broader perspective," Bahar said.

In mentoring students in the program, Scofield said she hopes to "help students to be more reflective of who they are, what they want to get out of this (program), who they want to meet, what types of experiences … they have.” Scofield added that she wants all future students “to take advantage of all Brown and RISD have to offer you in 11 months."

Tuition for MADE will be decided in a future vote by the Brown Corporation in February, and according to the program’s website, 25 percent of tuition income will be returned to qualified students for financial aid.


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