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Northwestern students learn by doing in Bay Area Immersion Program

March 3, 2017
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Northwestern students in the Bay Area Immersion Program at Northwestern's new space in San Francisco.
Northwestern students in the Bay Area Immersion Program at Northwestern's new space in San Francisco.

“This is a program that I wish would have had access to when I was a student,” said Anthony Jakubiak, a Senior Experience Designer at SAP Labs who studied civil engineering at the University of Minnesota before earning his M.S. from the Engineering Design Innovation (EDI) program at Northwestern.

Jakubiak is referring to the Bay Area Immersion Program offered by the Segal Design Institute (housed within Northwestern Engineering) and the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications in the new Northwestern educational space in downtown San Francisco. Jakubiak brings his real world perspective to the program as a co-instructor.

Students in the Bay Area Immersion Program take four courses taught by Northwestern faculty Liz Gerber and Owen Youngman that focus on design innovation, digital communication, and the intersection of technology and culture. Gerber is the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence, director of the Segal Design Cluster, a co-founder of the Delta Lab at Northwestern Engineering, and the founder of Design for America, which now has chapters at nearly 40 campuses nationwide.

The Bay Area Immersion program prepares these Northwestern students to thrive in the region’s tech, media, and startup scene, which Jakubiak describes as one-of-a-kind.

“The fact that there is such a huge concentration of technology, design, and entrepreneurship here in the Bay Area means that [the students] have exposure to things that it would take a year or two to be able to experience in any other place,” said Jakubiak. “It’s just incredible exposure and inspiration that they can get in such a short period of time and it’s all happening right here.”

Beyond coursework, the students participate in field trips to companies such as IDEO, LUNAR, and FitBit, and work on projects for Facebook and Matter Venture Capital.

Northwestern students take a field trip to IDEO and hear from Design Lead Albert Leung.

“We were visiting IDEO one week ago and having [the students] see all these things that they are learning really brings a smile to my face. The [designers at IDEO] are hanging up their work and showing all these design concepts just like we are. It’s like, ‘We’re not making this up!’ Going out in the real world and combining that with what they’re learning in the classroom has been really powerful.”

For Jakubiak, teaching with Professor Gerber brings him full circle back to his experience as a graduate student in the EDI program administered by the Segal Design Institute.

“When I was in EDI, [Professor Geber] was my instructor,” explained Jakubiak. “I’m a practicing designer now [at SAP] and I bring in how this plays out in the real world to the class. I think Liz and I complement each other really well because we’ll mix design methods and the more theoretical side of design with a lot of movement and activities and workshops.”

GoPro designer Yusuke Miyashita speaks to students in the Bay Area Immersion Program.

Guest speakers from GoPro, Capitol One, and Intuit among others have visited the students in the Bay Area Immersion Program to talk about their work. Jakubiak said the speakers are inspirational for the students.

“[These students] all very hybrid in their skillset. They’re combining engineering with journalism with design with art and so they all have non-linear journeys themselves,” explained Jakubiak. “What we have found really powerful for them is to see and hear from many different types of professionals who have their own non-linear journeys, whether it be they started in engineering and now they’re doing design or they started in journalism and now they’re working as entrepreneurs.”

Students in the Bay Area Immersion Program will return to Northwestern at the end of this quarter with unique, hands-on learning experiences.

“They’re not your typical classes where you’re just lecturing with slides,” said Jakubiak.  “What is different than a lot of courses out there is we’re building in a lot of elements like experiential learning. We’re just not telling them things. We’re having them do things that are relevant to what we are teaching them.”