For the Love of Feet: An Introductory Biomimicry Lesson for Online Classrooms

Concurrent Session 9

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Successful models of industry/higher education collaborations implemented in a fully online program at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) will be shared.


Cindy Gilbert is the founding director of the fully online, multidisciplinary MA in sustainable design program at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) that is the first of its kind in the world. In this role, she fosters a culture of awareness and creativity through sustainable, innovative and collaborative design. Cindy has taught numerous courses and workshops around the world in the fields of biology, sustainability and biomimicry. She is the founder of Alula Consulting which specializes in innovative online and sustainability education projects with clients that include academic institutions, non-profit organizations and corporations. Most recently, she served as the founding director of university education at the Biomimicry Institute where she developed and managed all higher education programs, including the professional certification program, annual education summits, affiliate and fellows programs, and design challenges. She earned her MEd from Griffith University, Australia, and her MS from Oregon State University. Cindy is based in Montana.

Extended Abstract

Online learning is an untapped resource to transform collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities in higher education. The Babson Survey Research Group (2015) reports that over 70% of academic institutions consider online learning a critical component of their long term strategy. As more institutions venture into the burgeoning field of online education it has become clear that online learning is not an educational fad but instead holds great promise for the future and democratization of education, and offers untapped potential for transnational projects, innovation and collaboration.

By leveraging existing online technologies and a global, interdisciplinary faculty, students have the capability to cross design disciplines, geographic boundaries, cultural regions and time zones. This model of engagement has great potential to expand students' professional work experience and networks, and as well as perspectives, through transnational discourse, collaboration, innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership experiences.

This paper will share examples of tried and tested models of workforce innovation opportunities for students that were developed and successfully implemented in an online capacity at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). Several key courses in the two-year Master of Arts in Sustainable Design (MASD) program at MCAD will be outlined and discussed. The MASD is an interdisciplinary program; students span disciplines from across design (product, graphic, fashion, etc.) to engineering, architecture, science and business. The MASD brings students from across the globe to work together on collaborative, innovative and sustainability-focused projects in a fully online capacity.

Collaborative Product Design is a corporate-sponsored course where students collaborate on interdisciplinary teams to deconstruct company-selected products that exist on the market today, conduct a full life cycle analysis (LCA) of the product and generate sustainable redesigns for the company using innovation tools and techniques. Students work closely with industry representatives throughout the process. The course culminates with interdisciplinary teams creating pitch decks and providing professional reports to the company as their final projects.

In the Global Design Challenge course, students pitch their own ideas for a novel, sustainability-focused product or service design that they aspire to take to market. Pitches are ranked by their peers and interdisciplinary teams are formed around winning pitches. Teams use Lean Startup principles and the Business Model Canvas as a framework to conduct customer interviews and refine their value propositions and product-market fit. Upon completion of the course, the team presents professional grade collateral including a: professional pitch deck, product prototype, video presentation, fleshed-out business model with projected numbers and strategic plan to take the product to market. The teams are also required to submit a grant proposal to compete for $5,000 of startup funds from an external entity.

Examples of student career development experiences from the Graduate Sustainability Practicum course as well as relevant career-focused thesis work will be shared.

Experiences garnering external grant monies to support course and program development in the area of workforce innovation and student prototyping will be shared.

Further, social media engagement opportunities the MASD program at MCAD has created to highlight examples of student and faculty career-focused work will be highlighted.

The goals of this session are to provide attendees with successful models of industry/higher education collaborations that have been tried and tested in a fully online graduate program, and to provide broadly applicable and replicable examples to develop and implement workforce innovation opportunities into their online classrooms.