University’s novel degree program draws international attention

Yujin Yaguchi, center, vice president and deputy director of the division for global campus initiatives at the University of Tokyo, met Wednesday with University faculty members leading the creation of the Innovation, Technology, and Design program. Photo: Joshua Prezant/University of Miami



By Janette Neuwahl Tannen

Yujin Yaguchi, center, vice president and deputy director of the division for global campus initiatives at the University of Tokyo, met Wednesday with University faculty members leading the creation of the Innovation, Technology, and Design program. Photo: Joshua Prezant/University of Miami



University’s novel degree program draws international attention

By Janette Neuwahl Tannen
Impressed with the University of Miami’s new initiative, a representative from the University of Tokyo met with leaders of the Innovation, Technology, and Design degree program on Tuesday to learn more.

As the University of Miami’s newest undergraduate degree program enters its second semester, it is already attracting the attention of another global institution. 

On Tuesday, Yujin Yaguchi, professor and vice president and deputy director of the division for global campus initiatives at the University of Tokyo, came to meet with University faculty members who played a role in leading the creation of the Innovation, Technology, and Design (ITD) program, the institution’s new accelerated, interdisciplinary degree. The ITD program uses active learning techniques to prepare students for a variety of careers—and positions that don’t yet exist—by teaching them skills in entrepreneurship, design thinking, computing, engineering, communication, and ethics, to name a few. 

Boasting 30,000 students and 15,000 undergraduates, the University of Tokyo is the oldest and largest higher education institution in Japan, according to Yaguchi. His leadership team is hoping to create a program similar to ITD in Tokyo, although he said it likely will be an honors program. Yaguchi had met previously with Jeffrey Duerk, the University’s executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, and welcomed a recent invitation to visit the Coral Gables Campus. 

“It’s very difficult for a University to come up with a new idea and share it, because we all tend to be protective of what we do,” said Yaguchi, who is also a professor of interdisciplinary information studies and U.S.-Japan cultural relations. “I am so appreciative of this opportunity to learn from the University of Miami.” 

Currently, the ITD program has 21 students and is stewarded by the College of Engineering, with faculty members from throughout the University teaching its classes. Inside the Innovation Lab, a unique learning space created for the program on the first floor of the McArthur Building, Duerk said he was glad that University faculty members could share their insight and experience with Yaguchi.

“With this program and others, we were giving faculty the permission and opportunity to explore, and they imagined completely new opportunities. So, we are supporting them and trying to develop new spaces where our students and faculty can push the boundaries of educational innovation,” said Duerk. “I’ve met the students, seen their work to date, and I am very pleased with the results.” 

During the 2021-22 academic year, a group of faculty members from across the University called the Academic Innovation Fellows crafted the ITD program, with facilitation from Minerva, a San Francisco-based educational company. Students in the ITD program can graduate in three full years and must complete several design challenges, along with two summer internships and a capstone project. 

Three of the fellows—Lokesh Ramamoorthi, a lecturer in computer and electrical engineering, who also serves as the assistant program director for ITD; Barbara Millet, assistant professor of interactive media; and Allan Gyorke, the University’s chief academic technology officer—met to talk with Yaguchi about how they and other faculty members shaped the ITD program. 

Yaguchi said he appreciated their guidance, openness, and leadership. He was particularly struck by the University’s willingness to give a faculty team the latitude to design an entirely new degree. 

“In order to make a successful program, you need a committed group of faculty and staff, and clearly the ITD program is a product of the hard work of faculty at the University of Miami,” said Yaguchi. “That’s an important lesson for me to take back to Japan.” 

Before teaching at the University, Ramamoorthi and Millet both worked in technology companies. While there, both noticed that they—along with many other recent graduates—were unprepared for some aspects of the industry. As a result, a third of the program includes experiential learning, where students are involved with outside companies, organizations, or government agencies. 

“I was a software engineer before, and I was comfortable with programming but not presenting. So, we wanted to break the silos of technology, business, design, and other topics with this program,” Ramamoorthi said. “We are venturing into a space where all of these disciplines are necessary components for a successful career.” 

As part of the ITD program, students must take a challenge course each semester, where they utilize a strategy called design thinking to identify a problem, investigate it fully, and create a novel solution. At the end of each semester, they present a prototype with a proposed business plan. Last semester, ITD students tackled problems on campus. This semester, they are working with The Underline, an organization creating a 10-mile linear park, urban trail, and art destination beneath Miami’s elevated Metrorail, Ramamoorthi indicated. 

“Together, we’ve crafted a degree program that teaches our students how to apply design thinking when addressing real-world problems, and that prepares them for roles in innovation and design in industry,” said Millet, who worked in product design and research before joining the University. 

This semester, ITD students also began using the Innovation Lab, a 3,013-square-foot space dedicated to the program, so that students can work on projects whenever they have time. The space is outfitted with lockers, 3D printers, computers, and large LCD screens. It also has a conference room, so the space can be divided, and a small kitchen for longer brainstorming sessions. Yaguchi also was glad to learn about how the University is renovating classroom spaces like these from Maria Galli Stampino, the University’s dean of undergraduate affairs; Dacia Simpson, director of classroom management; and Troy Thompson, director of building facilities at the College of Engineering. 

“What looks forward thinking now, may not be in the future. So, we wanted to create a space where students would want to hang out and explore their ideas,” Stampino said. 

And lately, the first class of ITD students have been excelling. 

This week, first-year ITD students Quin McGowan, Roni Kennedy, and Lauren Wood won the local finals in the Hemispheric University Consortium’s Social Ideas Challenge to devise entrepreneurial ideas with social impact. Their concept, “After Hours Vending,” aims to reduce food waste by packaging leftover food items from bakeries and coffee shops that were made that day and selling them in vending machines at night. Whatever items are not sold via the machines, can be donated to local homeless shelters the next day. 

The three will present their idea and compete with other groups from across the hemisphere at the eMerge Americas conference in April at the Miami Beach Convention Center.