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Author's profile photo Don Ginocchio

Design Thinking for Community Engineering Projects Course at Notre Dame

This semester, SAP provided a unique collaboration with the University of Notre Dame College of Engineering faculty for a new course that applied Design Thinking and Design Doing to community challenges.  I had the pleasure of leading several sessions of the course and was supported by our colleagues at SAP Labs.  Students were coached throughout the Design Thinking process and were provided access to SAP’s Build which provided the overall methodology for the course. We wrapped up the course in the past few weeks when three student teams presented their solution concepts and prototypes to faculty and community stakeholders. The students did a great job and it was particularly exciting to see Design Thinking applied in this special way.

Notre Dame continues to innovate around its curriculum for engineering students and is planning to implement a new Engineering Grand Challenges Scholars Program next year. The concept is to build a program based on problem-solving that changes the conversation for students, especially in the context of modern engineering challenges which cannot hope to be solved within the context of a single engineering discipline. The proposed “Global Challenges” (GC) exist at the intersection of:

This intersection creates the strategic identity of a Notre Dame Engineer. Though the mapping of these GC’s would evolve over time with modern challenges, the current framework suggests these five domains:

  1. Environment
  2. Human Health
  3. Energy
  4. Security
  5. Economic Development

One of the early courses to develop this domain was the Community Based Engineering Design Projects course which included students from multiple engineering majors and is described as follows:

This project-based course combines theory and practice to give students the opportunity to apply their engineering curriculum to real projects with transformative impact in a community. The course will draw from existing resources within Notre Dame to provide a framework for students to learn the theory, methodology, and skills necessary to implement their projects. Students will be paired with mentors and community partners to work on projects that will impact the South Bend region and beyond. The scope of the projects will include researching the project theme and local context, defining the problem, brainstorming solutions, prototyping multiple solutions, and piloting the most viable prototype. Prototypes could include simulations, MATLAB graphical user interfaces, or benchtop physical models depending on the type of project. At the end of the semester, students will use feedback on the pilot project to prepare transition plans and scopes of work for future project execution on a larger scale by the partner organization. The primary partner for these projects will be the Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem ( focusing on project areas within South Bend. Other organizations such as student groups or community organizations may serve as additional partners. Project topics may include, but are not limited to, smart green infrastructure, water management, data analytics, internet of things, and smartphone app development.

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