Today on The (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer, we talk with Amy Dinh from the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation. She tells us about the changes for the fall semester, and shares which courses are designed for frosh and transfer students. Plus, Amy introduces us to the Berkeley Certificate in Design Innovation, student led DeCal courses, student organizations with whom they partner, and more.
The Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation expands the role of design in engineering education at Berkeley. No matter what field of engineering you’re in, you’ll get hands-on practice with design automation, rapid prototyping, and team-based learning.
- Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation
- Courses offered
- Student resources
- Articles about projects and events from Jacobs Hall
LAURA VOGT: Hello and thanking you for tuning in to this week’s (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer. My name is Laura Vogt, I’m the associate director of marketing and communications in the College of Engineering. This week we are going to learn more about the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation with their student services and programs manager, Amy Dinh. Hi Amy, welcome!
AMY DINH: Hi. Thanks for having me. And hi and welcome to everybody. Welcome to Berkeley.
LV: Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at UC Berkeley?
AD: Sure. So as you said I am the student services and programs manager for Jacobs. And what that means is – I am the first point of contact for students, just to get oriented to the resources that we have for students to explore design and technology. We have a range of different ways to get connected and involved. It’s kind of an à la carte menu of resources we have and it can be like drinking from a firehose, like many things at Berkeley. So I’m there there to serve as a friendly face and a way to get oriented to how our resources can serve your interests and your learning.
LV: Well again, thank you so much for joining me today. Let’s jump right in with an overview of what the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation is, can you start with a history of the program?
AD: We opened in 2015 and our objective is to serve as an interdisciplinary hub for learning and making at the intersection of design and technology. A long catch phrase but to break it down it basically means that, all the resources that we have in our building, they are centered on the topic of the intersection of human centered design and emerging technologies. That’s everything from assistive technology to robotics to graphic design. Anything where you’re using design for technology or design of technology and so on and so forth. It also means that all of our resources are hands on, team based and interdisciplinary. So when you come into Jacobs Hall or you use our resources, you’re not just doing problem sets, you’re not just going to be working on your own, you’re going to be engaging in really interactive ways, which helps with learning and also we think is a lot of fun.
The resources we offer also range from courses but also events, student activities, mentorship and we have a maker space as well, that is normally open for students to come in and use equipment and tools. All set around this idea of learning and making designing and technology. The interdisciplinary part is basically just highlighting the fact that we sort of students from across the campus. We actually don’t have our own undergraduate major programs. Everyone that we serve is coming from other departments and we provide a very diverse and interdisciplinary space.
LV: Can you tell me about the classes that Jacob supports?
AD: In Jacob’s Hall you’re going to find three different types of courses but they all center on that theme of design and technology that I mentioned. We have the design innovation courses, you’ll find them listed DES INV, and those are courses that we ourselves, as Jacobs, run. They range from introductory courses that are aimed at freshmen and sophomores, like yourself and also new transfers, and will cover basic skills and design. Things like prototyping and fabrication or visual communication and sketching. Then you have your upper division courses that you can take as juniors and seniors. Those will be more focused on a particular topic and allow you to use your design skills to examine that topic. So things like reimagining mobility, rethinking electric vehicles. Different learning opportunities for different ranges of students.
In addition to those courses that we ourselves run, we also support other departments with their own design oriented courses. So if you are an EECS major you might take CS160: User Interface Design in our building. If you are mechanical engineering you might take ME 110: Introduction to Product Development in our building because we want to support other departments and other groups who are also interested in teaching design and technology innovation.
Then finally last but not least we have the DeCals. Those are student run classes developed and run by your peers and just like those other two course categories I mentioned, we want to support any courses that center on design and technology. You can take classes like EnableTech which is a DeCal that focuses on assistive technology. You have a human centered design DeCal. Basically, if you’re interested in learning about these topics, Jacobs tries to be a little a hub of being able to find and participate in these classes. You go to our website and check out our fall list. Most of those courses will not be physically in the building. We will still try to be a platform to support them and let students know what they are and how to find them.
LV: Do any of the courses that you offer have held seats for students?
AD: We want to have an interdisciplinary community. We reserve seats in our courses for non-engineering students but that means that there is another portion that’s reserved for all those students in engineering. Definitely check those out if you’re interested. I know, at least as of now, there’s a couple of seats left in our introductory courses. We also have seats held for incoming transfer students because the transfer student community is very important to us and we want to make sure that you all are welcome here. You get the same privileges as entering freshmen, in terms of having some tell them some of our introductory courses, such as DES INV 15 in the fall.
LV: Excellent. I know that with the changes this fall semester that so many of the services are having the change that you offer. Can you tell us about any preliminary plans for going virtual for the fall?
AD: Yes, I’m happy to. And the entire Berkeley community has been so flexible and so adaptive with all the changes and definitely really proud of my colleagues, as well as our students, for rolling with the punches. And so I’m happy to share that we are still planning to run a lot of our programs, just with adaptation for courses. The current plan, as of us talking today, is that all courses in fall will be remote. And of course, that means that the hands on project based activity won’t happen in the same way because we won’t have access building or to the maker space directly. However, they will still be courses that will give you introductions to interdisciplinary learning. They’ll be team based. They’ll be making, so far as students can make things at home and we can get materials to students. The Maker Space, which normally would be open for students to come in and use, will be closed to students to enter, but we will be running a job drop model. Students and staff and faculty can create designs, submit them to our staff, who will then make things and then just leave them in a pickup area for students. So it won’t be exactly the same as before but as much as we can, we still want to support the spirit of making. We’ll be keeping our maker space open through this model, so that you can at least design and create things, even if you yourself aren’t the one printing it or in the lab itself.
So that’s courses and maker space. We also plan to still have a lot of events, they will just be all online. Things like our speaker events, our virtual skills workshops, we’ll still be running them, they’ll just be online. Student groups, I mentioned are a really important part of our community, and although they will not be holding their meetings and their events in the building, we’ll still be using our online presence as a way to promote those groups and making sure that everyone else in the broader community knows that they are happening and can access them.
So yeah, all these different plans we’re still developing as the summer goes on and we’ll be ready to take off running in the fall. The best place to get more information about those is going to be by visiting the Jacobs website. So I will send you some links for that, Laura.
LV: Awesome. When you talk about the student groups, is there a page on your website devoted to student groups as well?
AD: There is, yes, a really good resource as an overview of what happens in Jacobs and resources for students is, if you go to our main page, there is a student resource section and then underneath that there is a student group resources section specifically. That if you are a student leader and want to know, what does Jacobs offer for my student org? Then there is a section called campus resources and that is information about campus groups and student orgs that you as an individual can join. Between those two sections, you’ll be able to find more information about student group activity and resources.
LV: I’ve had a couple of students ask, is there a specific design major or minor at Berkeley that they can pursue?
AD: Yeah, that’s a very good question. So the short answer is there is not a design major at Berkeley. Aside from the ones that the College of Environmental Design offers, which are oriented toward things like landscape architecture or architecture. There’s a couple reasons for that. One is we believe that design is a process that can be infused into any major and we really value this idea you don’t have to be a design major to be a Jacobs. You can be a business major, you can be a CogSci major, you can be nuclear or CE. There’s a way for you to infuse design into your learning but there’s also a way for you to make use of those resources for your own personal learning, even if it has nothing to do with your major. That’s kind of the philosophy we have for now for our undergraduate education. There are a few made minors that you could look into and certificates that you could look into if you want to just have more structure to or find other courses that you can take that are oriented toward design, which I’d be happy to tell you about.
LV: My next thing I was…we’re going to ask you was we’re going to do a podcast later on that gets really into the specifics of the Berkeley Certificate for Design Innovation (BCDI) but can you give an overview of what the certificate is and how it’s part of Jacobs.
AD: Sure. Yeah. And yeah that’ll be a great podcast. I assume you talked to Tyshon for that?
LV: Yes, that was my plan.
AD: Great. Yeah. So I’ll do a really quick overview before he gives the in-depth dive. Basically the BCDI is a cross campus collaboration, it’s actually a collaboration between engineering, but also environmental design, the HAAS School of Business and Letters and Science: Arts and Humanities. The idea is that you take four courses, from an approved course list, that are addressing design innovation. Once you take those four courses, you get your certificate. There’s a lot of different options, different courses, you could take from that list. Many of the courses in Jacobs Hall satisfy BCDI requirements because there’s a lot of overlap between what the certificate is trying to achieve and the resources that we offer. If you are interested in having more structure to the courses that you take at Jacobs Hall and also want to learn about other courses across campus that would interest you then check out the BCDI.
LV: What can students look forward to when it’s safe to be back on campus?
AD: Definitely the hands on making is something that is a really fun and really engaging part of our community. And as I mentioned, there is still going to be hands on making. We will encourage people, and support people, to make using the resources they have at home and we’ll try to get resources to students however we can. Once we’re back on campus and the campus reopens we’ll be able to reopen our physical maker space again. In Jacobs Hall, you can imagine with me, it’s a four story building and it’s a mix of teaching studios and maker space. So you basically walk into the building and then on the first floor you have these two rooms that are just chock full of 3D printers and laser cutters and a sewing machine and the laser cutter and woodshop. Then you go up and down stairs and you will find other things like a metal shop, electronics lab, more 3D printers, interspersed with this meeting space club and classes. So I think it’s a really really special place to be in this. You know you can feel the energy of the building of the student makers and it’s a fun place to be because when you walk around you’ll just see people working in something cool. You can just walk up and ask them what they’re doing. People are pretty friendly in our community, so they’re generally happy to share what they’re doing because they’re excited about it.
When you walk upstairs you might overhear a class being held with an interesting topic or you might run into a speaker event talking about some interesting aspect of design. You might meet some new friends through a club or through just a serendipitous meeting. So yeah, I think it’s definitely this physical space where there is equipment but also this chance to run into people and collaborate in-person. I think that’s a really special part of our community and something that we’re very much looking forward to going back to full force. But we definitely are committed to preserving that spirit as much as possible even during a shelter in place.
LV: I really like this idea that you’re building this community there because it’s such an important part of being an undergrad at UC Berkeley. Are there any other ways that Jacobs is fostering this community amongst our students?
AD: Yes, I mentioned this interdisciplinary culture a few times, and that is really important to us. This idea that the best way to learn and to design is to engage with people with different perspectives and backgrounds. That is people from different majors and different colleges but its also people from different life experiences and different perspectives in life. So what we try to do as much as possible is make sure that no matter who you are and no matter which communities you are involved with, that you feel you have a place at Jacobs Hall.
We are doing that through policies like making sure our transfer students have some seats reserved for them too. We’re actively trying to make sure our speakers are representative of the broad and diverse spectrum of designers that are out there. Making sure that we do outreach activities, like the one I’m doing with you right now. We’re doing presentations to different groups to make sure that we definitely know you’re there and definitely want to be part of a community. That’s definitely work in progress. We’re no, not work in progress but it’s definitely an ongoing activity. The fortunate thing is that our community, I think, has the culture I think is such that the students who come to us, to our space, embrace these ideas and actively try to enforce them as well. It’s really encouraging the culture that we already see amongst our students, too.
LV: What are some of your favorite moments working with students at Jacobs?
AD: Yes, since we’ve been open for over four years now, it means that some of the students that came to us as freshmen have graduated and are now off in the world. And that’s definitely been one of my favorite parts, is just meeting students when they’re new and are just like what is this space and then seeing them graduate. Or years later, seeing them move on to masters, seeing them in that time become leaders in their own right. Mentors to other students and seeing them contribute back to the community. Remember that they were once newcomers too. Thinking back on some of our student staff that started as freshmen, then graduated with a lot of experience and having helped a lot of other students along the way. A lot of our student grad winners through this program called the Innovation Catalyst program. It’s students who have this initial spark of an idea. We are able to give them all the funding and then two years later they have a startup that they’ve spun out or they’ve been able to publish papers or present at conferences. Just seeing that growth and seeing the evolution within individual students has been really rewarding.
LV: That’s going to be pretty awesome to see the successes that come from the work that they’ve done with you.
AD: Yeah, yeah, I think I also mention that too because you know some students feel intimidated by coming into this space. They feel like if they’re not already experts at making or 3D printing, then they don’t have a place at Jacobs, that there’s everyone’s art somewhere. And we’re learning too. That is the whole point of our existence, is to make sure students can learn and get better at the things they’re interested in.
LV: I remember one of my favorite moments that I had there was I was at an event for EnableTech and someone came in and was a pre-law student and hadn’t ever done anything in the maker space or in engineering or anything like that before. And by the end of the day, they were able to make something that helped create this product for someone that they wouldn’t have been able to have otherwise. And it was just really cool that nobody cared where they came from, what their background was, they were able to bring in this different perspective.
AD: Yeah, yeah. That’s that’s a great moment and just there’s so many like that, that I remember. What I like about your memory that you have, is again this idea that design is not only for people in a design major or only people who have “designer” in their title. It’s really like – We’ll give you the tools and the mindset to do this process and then you can just make use of it, no matter who you are. It’s really empowering and inspiring in that way.
LV: What’s the best way for students to stay up to date on what’s going on?
AD: We have a couple of different avenues. So we have a student mailing list in the Jacobs community. During the school year, I will send out digests to that list about, two or three times a week, with announcements from Jacobs but also from our community. Listing events, programs, and jobs that would interest students interested in design technology. There’s also our social media. We have Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. So we try to keep people updated in that way and share a lot of fun stories and updates from the community through those channels. Then finally, as I mentioned, we have a student resources section of the website. That’s a general overview of the different things that we have to offer.
It depends on the level of content students want to be pushed out of them, versus they can just go to a page and just check it when they can. But those are the three main ways. And then the fourth way of course is just reaching out to any of the staff, like myself ,my colleague Sean, who’s the Student Services Advisor at Jacobs. And our job is to answer questions and help you out. So don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you can’t figure out where to go.
And one thing that I want to add and make sure that we talk about, we touched on it when talking about community…but I just want to underline this idea that Jacobs is for you. So everyone listening to this podcast, Jacobs is for you. We are really excited to have you at Berkeley and if any of these topics that I mentioned of design technology interests you, then that means that there’s a history here, so don’t feel like you don’t belong here. Just reach out. Stop by our summer events center, or mailing lists. Just get involved in any number ways that are out there. If you are experiencing challenges let us know because that’s something that we definitely want to make sure we mitigate as much as possible.
And then, if anyone who is listening on this is interested in getting more involved in there are often opportunities for that. We have things like our Student Advisory Board, for example, which is a volunteer position where you can be in touch with Jacobs leadership and offer your student experience and advice so we can better run our programs. Other jobs as well are available and other volunteer roles, so you can find those on our website as well. And then final, final thing is if any of these topics sound interesting to you, then there are some ways for you to learn more about it. We’re going to be running a bunch of back to school activities, like a maker space tours and info sessions and workshops. Check our website or social media for those and hopefully we’ll see you at events later on this year.
LV: Excellent. Well, Amy, thank you so much for joining me today.
AD: Thank you! Looking forward to seeing everyone, virtually seeing everyone this fall and then getting to see each other in person again sometime soon.
LV: Thank you. And I know that the notice just came out that we’re all going online completely for our fall semester and that you’ve got a lot of plan changes. So I look forward to seeing how you’re doing it and I know that what you offer on a regular basis is pretty outstanding and amazing and I can only imagine that you’re going to be able to replicate that in this virtual world. So thank you. Thank you for all the work that you’re putting in.
AD: Thank you. You know the great thing about our design team is that there’s always this mindset of what is this challenge and how can we adapt to what the challenge is. What are the ways, the solutions that we can develop for it? So just put our design thinking caps on!
LV: Thank you everyone for tuning it to the (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineering and I look forward to podcasting with you next week.