Six questions for Maria Yang, D-Lab's first Faculty Director for Academics

Maria Yang (left), MIT D-Lab Faculty Director for Academics.
Maria Yang (left), MIT D-Lab Faculty Director for Academics.

Earlier this fall, D-Lab welcomed Professor Maria Yang as our first Faculty Director for Academics. Dr. Yang's research interest is in the product design process, particularly in the early phases of the design cycle. Dr. Yang will work with the D-Lab leadership team and with Libby Hsu, D-Lab Academic Program Manager and Lecturer, to advance D-Lab's academic program of more than 20 MIT course offerings, as well as student fieldwork and research opportunities. We recently caught up with Maria to get her perspective on D-Lab and her new role:

How would you describe your new role at D-Lab?

"D-Lab has a history of delivering transformational educational experiences in technology and development for students across the institute and the world. I see my role as fostering this D-Lab tradition to keep it thriving, and to work with the incredibly dedicated D-Lab team to think about the vision for education at D-Lab  in the future."

What is your impression of D-Lab’s academic program? What do you hear from students about the program?

"My teaching passion is in project-based, hands on classes because it offers lasting learning experiences for students. D-Lab has been a groundbreaker in this approach, and a constant theme that I've heard from students in D-Lab is how these experiences have been game changers for them. Students tell us that they've gained a richer perspective of what it means to be a "global citizen," and alum say that these experiences have fundamentally changed their outlooks in their professional careers and personal lives."

Why D-Lab?

"MIT offers an impressive array of opportunities for students enthusiastic about international opportunities. D-Lab is unique in this ecosystem because of its commitment to combining a global perspective with hands on learning in so many aspects of development, from design to energy to water and beyond. Moreover, D-Lab connects these educational efforts with collaborative research initiatives in international development which provides students with a broader perspective."

How do you hope to advance/promote/enrich the D-Lab program?

"Not sure yet! I'm still in information gathering mode - an important part of the design process."

You are faculty sponsor for the D-Lab class Design for Scale - tell us about your experience with this class, the co-instructors?

"Design for Scale helps students think about how to make the one-off prototypes that are the typical result of a design course into something that can be produced in larger quantities. Students learn about product design and manufacturing, and the class does so in a way that is urgent because of its collaborations with partners in various parts of the world who are real clients for the student projects. This is in keeping with the D-Lab theme of 'real projects for real people.' Design for Scale is fortunate because it has a jaw-dropping teaching lineup that would be a powerhouse for any design or engineering class anywhere. It includes Harald Quintus-Bosz, founder of Cooper Perkins; Kate Bergeron, VP of Hardware Engineering at Apple; and Sorin Grama, founder of Promethean Systems. It's sort of like having Marvel's Avengers teach your design course!"

How do you think your own research interests may intersect with D-Lab’s mission?

"My research interest is in early stage design process, from consumer products to complex systems. I've previously worked on several research projects thinking about design for international development through the lens of human-centered design. These projects have not only been closely aligned with D-Lab, but have been in collaboration with D-Labbers, including Jesse Austin-Breneman who is now faculty member at University of Michigan and Eric Reynolds who is now a PhD student at Stanford."

Read more about Professor Yang on the MIT Mechanical Engineering site, and on MIT News!