February 28, 2022
The Dartmouth Designathon is a weeklong virtual design sprint/competition that challenges Dartmouth students to design for educational equity. This competition is part of the Design Initiative at Dartmouth (DIAD), which is open to students across campus, but run by engineering faculty and housed in the engineering school.
Human-centered engineering and design is a big focus for engineering students at Dartmouth, but DIAD believes the principles can be applied more broadly to any discipline, so DIAD encourages interdisciplinary collaborations.
Jennifer Xu is a member of Dartmouth College’s class of 2023. She is the co-president of the Design Collective for the 2021-22 term. We spoke to Jennifer to learn more about the design program. Here’s how our conversation went.
Design Engineering: Can you provide an overview of this competition?
Jennifer Xu: The first Dartmouth Designathon ran in 2020, and we’re proud to have seen a major expansion through this year’s program, which was held this spring. We ran it with three main goals:
- to allow students to think critically about a social issue through a design lens;
- to bring the design community together on campus; and
- to provide a learning experience that could creatively challenge both beginner and more experienced designers in a fun, competitive setting.
This year’s competition saw six teams, comprised of three to four students each, from a range of design and educational backgrounds. We partnered with amazing sponsors and representative speakers including the Educational Design Lab, DALI Lab, Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship and the Thayer School of Engineering, which allowed us to provide prizes to the winning teams.
The Literacy Lab, a nonprofit organization that provides children in preschool through third grade with evidence-based literacy intervention, was also one of the sponsors for the event and provided a judge for the event wrap-up. The first-place team was also awarded a $1,500 stipend that could be used for continued project development.
DE: Can you tell us about some of the designs that are part of the event and how they came to be?
Xu: Through this year’s competition, we saw a variety of different ways that design can be used to tackle issues around educational equity. Accessibility issues, mutual aid, and even the community college transfer process was explored by the teams that participated. Overall, we saw a very diverse range of ideas.
DE: Can you provide some examples of what the event has produced or what you expect it to produce?
Xu: The first-place winner, CampUS, was designed to provide customized support to international students coming to college, focusing on social and academic situations like making friends or navigating a foreign grading system. On the CampUS platform, users can create personalized profiles with information such as their school, class, area of study, race, gender and income level in order to browse posts created by similar users.
The application also includes a messaging feature that allows international students to build a sense of community and mentorship. The team’s four members are Abigail Johnson (’23), Ardelle Ning (’22), Feray Ok (’23) and Katie Shi (’21).
DE: Does Dartmouth have a particular stance on adopting an innovation that is linked to the program? What drove them to sponsor the event and coordinate it?
Xu: While the sponsors themselves are not committed to adopting any final designs from the Designathon, they were gracious enough to sponsor prizes and funding for the teams in hopes of encouraging student designers and potentially creating something interesting.
DE: Anything else you’d like to tell us about the event that the above questions haven’t given you the opportunity to express?
Xu: I just want to say that we are so proud of everyone who participated in the 2021 Designathon––it has been a hard year on Zoom, and we’re grateful to have created an opportunity for people to come together and collaborate on something meaningful.