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In the first year, students receive a deep review of social innovation in all its forms, and including the disciplines involved, from mobile and digital technology to science, conservation, ethics and human sciences. Skills such as communication design, mapping, visualization and community design are interspersed with lectures and hands-on assignments for real client organizations.

Throughout the two-year program, the Guest Lecture Series is curated to inspire new thinking and dialogue about the nature of human societies. Speakers include business leaders, environmentalists, indigenous people, field workers, researchers, academics, poets, artists, musicians, policymakers, physicians, astronomers, physicists, human rights activists and innovators in social issues.

The second year's goal is the creation of a thesis, for which, with the help of a team of mentors and advisors, students will identify and research an issue of their choosing, then develop a thorough understanding of the context and challenges. They write a proposal that captures their recommended solution, then design it fully in a form ready to be implemented. Each thesis must be reviewed and approved by the thesis committee and the department co-chairs in order for the student to be eligible for degree conferral.


• Successful completion of 60 credits, including all required courses and the thesis project. Documentation of all thesis projects must be on file with the MFA Design for Social Innovation Department to be eligible for degree conferral.

• A matriculation of two academic years is required. Students must complete their degree within four years, unless given an official extension by the provost.

• Students are required to maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.0 (B) in order to remain in good academic standing.

Note: Departmental requirements are subject to change by the department chair if the chair deems that such change is warranted.


First-Year Requirements

SIG-5030        Fundamentals of Design for Social Innovation
SIG-5070        Communication Design
SIG-5120        Understanding Natural and Social Systems
SIG-5150        Mapping and Visualization Design
SIG-5220        Global Guest Lecture Series I 
SIG-5225        Global Guest Lecture Series II
SIG-5350        Disruptive Design: Research and Insights
SIG-5360        Environmental Ethics
SIG-5390        Games for Impact
SIG-5410        Technologies for Designing Change
SIG-5440        Introduction to Thesis

Second-Year Requirements

SIG-6060        Leadership and Entrepreneurship I
SIG-6065        Leadership and Entrepreneurship II
SIG-6170        Metrics and Data Visualization I
SIG-6175        Metrics and Data Visualization II
SIG-6190        Thesis Consultation: Research, Writing, Presentation
SIG-6220        Global Guest Lecture Series III
SIG-6225        Global Guest Lecture Series IV
SIG-6940        Thesis Consultation: Implementation

General Course Listing

Fundamentals of Design for Social Innovation
Fall semester: 3 credits
This course explores the skills needed to be an actor in social innovation, including change models, facilitation, relationships, team building and leaning into uncertainty. Structured as part lab and part discussion, students complete readings, journal assignments and activities related to interaction, dialogue, capturing and observing data, writing research and facilitation plans, and developing relationships. At the end of the course, each student facilitates a group discussion with different representatives from part of a system with the goal of helping the group see the system through multiple vantage points to shift to a collective intention and prototype new solutions

Communication Design
Spring semester: 3 credits
In this course, students use language and verbal and visual communication skills to engage, persuade and shift behavior through story writing and telling, cogent logic and public presentations. Throughout the semester, students develop a personal voice as well as work with external clients and organizations to design communication as a system with intentional impact on outcomes. The course culminates with presentations to external clients.

Understanding Natural and Social Systems
Fall semester: 3 credits
This course investigates social and environmental issues in the context of complex human communities and natural systems in which they exist, both online and on the ground. Issues integral to climate change, health, national security, personal identity and social justice are examined in relationship to the players and places that impact humanity and the environment. In addition to online communities, the interwoven dynamics of business, not-for-profit organizations and public agencies are covered.

Mapping and Visualization Design
Fall semester: 3 credits
The mapping and visualizing of systems are addressed in this course in order to facilitate a journey from thinking to making. Readings, discussions and weekly “experiments” are employed to investigate how mapping and modeling techniques can help develop sustainable frameworks of action. The course helps students visualize and articulate their thinking, consider ways of planning and communicating solutions and develop new models of engagement and action.

SIG-5220 / SIG-5225
Global Guest Lecture Series I and II
Fall and spring semesters: 3 credits per semester
These lecture series expose students to the lives and ideas of some of the most important people defining social innovation in the world today. Speakers are curated to inspire new thinking and dialogue on various opportunities for careers in social innovation and how design plays a role in each of them.

Disruptive Design: Research and Insights
Fall semester: 3 credits
Students explore how to meaningfully connect user and audience understanding to strategies for enterprise and social change. While discussing the processes, thinking and practices of primary, ethnographic-based research, students investigate how to collect compelling user stories as they come to understand the nuances of behavior, culture and emotion in the lives of their audiences.

Environmental Ethics
Spring semester: 1 credit
In this course students use systems thinking and creativity to explore the intersection of sustainability and design, including discussions on economics and quality-of-life indicators, how to distinguish problems from symptoms and unpacking the operating principles for life on Earth.

Games for Impact
Spring semester: 3 credits
Games designed to address social and political issues are one of the fastest growing categories in the “serious games” movement. This course incorporates game theory and analysis with hands-on development of social impact games: interactive experiences that integrate socio-political events, values and messages into their design and game mechanics. Working in teams, students take on game projects from concept to a functional prototype, and refine their projects through several iterations, ending with presentations to a jury of experts.

Technologies for Designing Change
Spring semester: 2 credits
In this making course, students explore a range of methods and techniques for taking a concept to completion using design and physical computing. Digital design and physical prototyping are used as a method of testing and learning. This learning will support the systematic design decisions that determine the quality, impact and outcome of social design.

Introduction to Thesis
Spring semester: 3 credits
Exercises in problem definition, audience identification, research and barriers to change help students test their own hypotheses. In this course, students investigate a variety of topics, researching each to the point of confirming their own interest and the viability of the concept. Criteria include demonstration of need on the part of the audience, a clear articulation of the concept and metrics for success. By the end of the semester, students will have a fully vetted topic for their thesis.

SIG-6060 / SIG-6065
Leadership and Entrepreneurship I and II
Fall and spring semesters: 3 credits per semester
The core of these courses is the launch of start-ups in student teams, through which theory and practice on entrepreneurship, leadership, collaboration and business models are melded. Topics covered include customer identification, development and channels; articulating and testing hypotheses; collaborative leadership and team dynamics; creating minimum viable products; revenue models; and resilience.

Metrics and Data Visualization I
Fall semester: 3 credits
Metrics and Data Visualization looks at the theory and practice of gathering and visualizing data by integrating the identification of metrics into ongoing student projects, and evaluating metrics from case studies in order to understand strategy. In the fall semester, the course focuses on data and visualization for exploration—asking useful questions and engaging in purposeful discovery. Guest lecturers include data scientists, financial modelers and corporate social responsibility experts.

Metrics and Data Visualization II
Spring semester: 3 credits
This is the continuation of SIG-6170, Metrics and Data Visualization I. In the spring semester, students will study data and visualization for explanation—how various tools and techniques help us communicate with and influence others. Guest lecturers include data scientists, financial modelers and corporate social responsibility experts.

Thesis Consultation: Research, Writing, Presentation
Fall semester: 6 credits
Guided by their faculty advisors, students conduct research to develop a thorough understanding of the context, landscape and challenges of their thesis topic. Students design and implement a series of prototypes to test and refine their theory, and create a compelling presentation, which brings each vision’s potential to life through words, images and graphics. There will be a required presentation to the thesis advisory board for approval of the thesis.

SIG-6220 / SIG-6225
Global Guest Lecture Series III and IV
Fall and spring semesters: 3 credits per semester
These lecture series expose students to the lives and ideas of some of the most important people defining social innovation in the world today. Speakers are curated to inspire new thinking and dialogue on various opportunities for careers in social innovation and how design plays a role in each of them.

Thesis Consultation: Implementation
Spring semester: 6 credits
With the help of thesis advisors, students will complete their thesis and develop it into a form ready to be implemented. Presentation of the thesis to the full board of advisors is required. Following approval, students present their final thesis to a public audience. A review committed consisting of the program chair, additional faculty and outside experts will critique presentations at critical intervals during the semester.

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