UMD Students Get Taste of Developing Fearless Ideas

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Students at UMD are getting a taste of what it takes to develop fearless ideas during a series of two-week, mini design thinking courses.

UMD students work on their one-hour design thinking project.

"In the 21st century, we need to be teaching students how to create innovative ideas, and especially how to embrace not only their successes, but failures as well."

Students at the University of Maryland are getting a taste of what it takes to develop fearless ideas during a series of two-week, mini-courses. The courses, integrated into existing classes, are being taught to more than 600 students this semester.

Teaching the courses is Erica Estrada-Liou, a lecturer on innovation and entrepreneurship at UMD, who recently joined the university from Stanford's "In the 21st century, we need to be teaching students how to create innovative ideas, and especially how to embrace not only their successes, but failures as well," says Estrada-Liou. "These courses are intended to help students understand the design thinking process, which will inevitably lead them to develop big, creative ideas that can have a lasting impact."

Each course begins with an introduction to "design thinking"—a human-centered, iterative innovation process used to design products, systems and services. Then, students are tasked with completing a full design project in one hour. For the project, they are asked to take on the role of a designer, understand their clients need, define the problem, brainstorm solutions to the problem, and finally create several low-resolution prototypes to test out potential solutions. The idea is to have the students build rough prototypes so they can easily and quickly test their solutions with potential users.

The second portion of the course is focused on applying the design thinking process to projects the students are already working on. Some examples include coming up with solutions to decrease local health disparities and developing community-based learning projects. A key component to this process is working in multidisciplinary teams, allowing the team members to work together to leverage everyone's individual strengths. Students taking these courses come from disciplines across campus, from business and science to arts and journalism.

"Through these new mini design thinking courses, we are able to give undergraduates, and particularly freshman, the opportunity to immerse themselves in the types of innovation courses that are only offered at a limited number of universities, and usually only to graduate students," says Dean Chang, UMD's associate vice president for innovation and entrepreneurship. "Our goal is to create life-long innovators by embedding design thinking and 'startup incubator' experiences in courses all throughout campus, including in such diverse areas as public health, environmental sciences, education, the social sciences, and the arts."

Erica Estrada-Liou is a lecturer in UMD's Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, designing learning experiences focused on teaching design thinking and innovation to students throughout campus. She is a co-founder of d.light design, a social enterprise that provides affordable light and power products to people living off of the electrical grid. After seeing d.light's first product to market, Estrada-Liou joined Stanford's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the as a Design Fellow, and later became the co-founder and director of the Social Entrepreneurship Lab. While at the, she taught various classes and workshops on human-centered design applied to poverty and various social issues, both in the United States and abroad. She holds a B.S. and M.S. in mechanical engineering and an M.B.A. from Stanford University.

This December, Estrada-Liou will appear in a documentary film premiering on PBS based on a design thinking course she previously taught. The film, Extreme by Design, follows the Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability course where students design products and services along with business plans for people living in the developing world. The film is currently being promoted in various cities to facilitate the film's accompanying "Watch & Design" workshop series aimed at K-12 students.

These design thinking courses are part of UMD's larger goal of embedding innovation and entrepreneurship into the academic core of the university across every discipline.

UMD prides itself as a pioneer in educating the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs, ranked as one of the nation's top schools for entrepreneurship and innovation. In 2013, the University of Maryland ranked No. 15 and No. 16 in The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur Magazine's "Top 50 Schools for Entrepreneurship Programs" for its undergraduate and graduate programs, respectively, with exceptionally strong "outside the classroom" entrepreneurship programs and resources. The university was also recently recognized as No. 1 among public universities No. 2 overall for tech entrepreneurship by the 2013 StartEngine College Index.

In addition, the university celebrates an annual "30 Days of EnTERPreneurship," awarding more than a quarter million dollars for the best ideas and innovations in technology, business, healthcare, social value, and clean energy.

For more information on the university's resources for innovators across campus, visit

About the University of Maryland
The University of Maryland is the state's flagship university and one of the nation's preeminent public research universities. A global leader in research, entrepreneurship and innovation, Maryland is ranked No. 21 among public universities by U.S. News & World Report and No. 14 among public universities by Forbes. The Institute of Higher Education, which ranks the world's top universities based on research, puts Maryland at No. 38 in the world, No. 29 nationally and No. 13 among U.S. public research institutions. The university is also one of the top 10 highest-rated D.C.-area employers, according to Its faculty includes three Nobel laureates, two Pulitzer Prize winners, 49 members of the national academies and scores of Fulbright scholars. The university is recognized for its diversity, with underrepresented students comprising one-third of the student population.


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Alana Carchedi
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