INTERDISCIPLINARY | February, 21 2024

“Collaboration at its Finest:” The Siebel Center for Design and the Department of Aerospace Engineering

Lily Dokhanchi
The Siebel Center for Design. Credit: Illini News Bureau and Grainger College of Engineering

Collaboration and interdisciplinary work are at the core of the Siebel Center for Design at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Recently, three SCD staff members, Saad Shehab, Ph.D., Taylor Parks, M.S., and Alexander Pagano M.S., worked closely with Timothy Bretl, Ph.D., Michael Lemback, Ph.D., and Elle Wroblewski, Ph.D. of the Department of Aerospace Engineering to give the students of AE 202: Aerospace Flight Mechanics a unique opportunity.

This collaboration is part of a larger initiative between the Sibel Center for Design and the Department of Aerospace Engineering to support interdisciplinary work and integrate human-centered design into courses. In this specific collaboration, undergraduate aerospace engineering students were able to use the SCD workspaces for coursework while Shehab, Parks, and Pagano engaged with students both as educators and collaborators.

“The Siebel Center for Design seeks collaboration with everybody on campus. Right now, we have a direct link to the  Grainger College of Engineering, which is how this opportunity with the Department of Aerospace Engineering began” Shehab, the Associate Director of Assessment and Research team at SCD, shared.

The Siebel Center for Design prioritizes education through teaching and experience. Pagano, a Ph.D. candidate in Mechanical Science and Engineering, shared how this commitment provided the perfect opportunity for the education of undergraduate aerospace students: “The undergraduate students have the best understanding of the learning experience that they have on our campus. At SCD, we conduct education research, so we knew it was critical that we engage with the students.”

The spaces at the Siebel Center also allowed aerospace engineering students to experience new fields of research. Parks, an Engineering Education Fellow at SCD, shared that when beginning the collaboration, she discussed the framework of aerospace courses with Professor Timothy Bretl, Ph.D.

“We used the framework to co-develop different activities related to the course learning outcomes. Then, we implemented the activities in the course and collected data as students carried out each exercise. This data helped us understand how effective the activities were and what sort of outcome the students were actually achieving” Parks explained.

Parks’s research focuses on problem solving through collaborative task design. She currently co-leads the implementation of human-centered design for certain courses within the Grainger College of Engineering. In this collaboration with the Department of Aerospace Engineering, the team is interested in outcomes associated with both technical engineering design and human-centered design, which SCD views as a problem-solving approach.

Talbot Laboratory, location of the Department of Aerospace Engineering. Credit: Aerospace Engineering at Illinois.

Design thinking gives students the tools and flexible structures to solve any problem through the two key principles of empathy and iteration. SCD worked with the aerospace engineering undergraduate students to utilize these principles in their coursework, which are also useful in any work environment.

In the Department of Aerospace Engineering, a goal of the faculty is to prepare undergraduate students for senior-level design courses. These courses help students become safe engineers when they graduate and enter the workforce. The collaboration with the SCD aimed to better prepare undergraduate students for senior-level courses, and one way this was accomplished was through designing catapults in the SCD spaces.

“Grammar and communication are very important for aerospace engineers, and we saw an opportunity to grow in these areas with the SCD faculty. We came up with the idea to build catapults that function while requiring students to explain their work” Wrobolewski shared.

For this project, the Siebel Center for Design provided the space where aerospace engineering students could work along with new educational ideas for the aerospace engineering professors and TAs to utilize. The SCD is a collaborative center, which is what allowed this opportunity to occur, and as Wroblewski and Lemback shared, “The undergraduate students enjoyed the change of pace in the course and the time they spent collaborating at SCD.”

This opportunity emphasized the importance of research experience for undergraduate students and the skills the Siebel Center for Design provides. The Siebel Center for Design has many opportunities for education and research, which focus on six key mindsets: collaboration, communication, creativity, experimentation, metacognition, and human centeredness. If you are interested in learning more about these opportunities and the SCD Summer Internships, visit their website here.

Both the Siebel Center of Design faculty and the Department of Aerospace Engineering faculty graciously expressed how this opportunity would not have been possible without the innovation and insight of the other. This appreciation and the success of this unique opportunity showcase how collaborative projects and interdisciplinary work flourish at Siebel Center for Design and at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

About the author
Lily Dokhanchi is a junior double majoring in English and Creative Writing with a minor in Business on the pre-law track. She is the Director of Content for the Illinois Student Undergraduate Research Journal and loves working with the content writers. In her free time she enjoys reading, cooking, and all types of writing.