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KEEN WInter Interdiscipinary Design Experience

The KEEN Winter Interdisciplinary Design Experience (K-WIDE) is 10 day intensive program offered during January at Bucknell University. Interdisciplinary teams of engineers work for no credit or pay to imagine, prototype and pitch a device that will contribute to the solution of a wicked social problem. 


Students from multiple disciplines in engineering work together on relevant, real-world problems and see connections between the various skill-sets provided by different disciplines. Students should expect growth in technical skills — fabrication, testing and validation, for example. Equally as important, students grapple with mindsets that will stretch them as designers, value creators and leaders. K-WIDE develops your marketable skills and may be a pathway to internships and summer research opportunities.

“I learned that hands on experience is absolutely invaluable. Books are good, but they just can’t give you the lessons you learn from actually working on a project. ... I learned that it can be difficult working with people of different disciplines but that it is really really rewarding in the end. I also learned that the engineering design process isn't a perfect by the book system. It constantly changes and adapts to what you are working on and is much more work than I ever imagined.”


In K-WIDE students are encouraged to try on the six "hats" below:


Designers are concerned with delighting the user by making the user’s experience one of high value. The design mindset focuses on form and function, both inside of the device and in the user interface. There are several flavors of design thinking, best exemplified by the Stanford, MIT Media Lab and design firms such as IDEO, Innocentive and Synapse.


Project Manager

The project manager organizes resources to their maximum effect so that tasks can be achieved. These tasks may span from simple to complex and from individual to team-­based. A good project manager will be able to fluidly allocate people, time, money, equipment, space and other resources of a group, as well as break down and clearly communicate the tasks to be done both globally and for individuals.



The maker creates prototypes to think, prove, communicate and gain information that will inform design decisions. The maker mindset is grounded in a theoretical understanding that guides decisions before, during and after building. Through experience, makers know how hard a technical task will be and what resources are needed to build. The maker may be a part of the Maker Movement (,,, that has lowered the technological barriers to the non-­expert.



The professional can identify and communicate strengths and weaknesses, in themselves others. Professionals understand the hierarchy of goals and can accept differences in opinions and goals, even when those goals are not in alignment. They make forward progress through timely decisions, strategic compromises and coordinated actions. The professional will expand or contract to fill the roles that are needed on a team.


Role Model

Role models search for for continuous growth in themselves and their team. They do not lead in the traditional sense but rather gain the respect of those around them through self efficacy, a growth mindset and intrinsic motivation —­ characteristics of what Jim Collins describes as the “Level 5” or Enlightened Leader. Role models learn from their own failures and encourage others to learn from theirs. They motivate others by appealing to their autonomy, mastery and purpose.


Value Creator

The value creator identifies areas where value is lacking and then acts to fill the gaps. They apply this attitude to themselves, their team and the world around them. The value creator is critical of the outcomes of their work, but paradoxically remains positive about the progress made.

Pedogogical Techniques


K-WIDE occurs off-semester when students have no other curricular or extra-curricular commitments and all of the college resources are available. The immersive nature facilitates deep learning, connections between concepts and greater emotional attachment to both their success and learning. Formal lecture is minimal, and most instruction is just-in-time in consultation with individuals, teams, and as a larger group.



Critical reflection is an essential element of experiential learning, where specific experiences can be generalized and framed in terms of broader principles that can be extended beyond a particular experience. Significant time is allocated during the program to reflect on (i) summation of the experience, (ii) generalization to broader concepts, (iii) connection between the experience and broader concepts, (iv) application to the current experience, and (v) extension to future situations.


Inductive Design

The engineering design process is usually taught deductively - an abstract process is presented first and then assignments guide students through the various steps – but a deductive approach is not how real-world problems are solved. In K-WIDE, design is taught through induction by letting general concepts emerge out of the experience. This student driven approach increases the desire for self-learning and a more natural inclusion of topic that often do not appear in the traditional design process.

A History


K-WIDE was conceived during a Bucknell Engineering College summer 2011 workshop on interdisciplinary programs and projects. Planning rapidly progressed and the scope expanded and crystalized around interdisciplinary teams working on authentic design problems under real constraints. Two core themes were developed at this time that have remained focal points of the program. First, K-WIDE would attempt to allow a natural intertwining of the design process and entrepreneurship to emerge out of the student experience. Second, the learning goals would include more than more than skills and knowledge and include explicit mindsets that we hoped to foster.


The First Offering

We identified first-and second-year students as good candidates, since they had not yet become too immersed in their individual disciplines. Any engineering first or second year who wanted to be a part of the program could join. Winter break was chosen to minimize outside distractions. In addition, there was no formal credit, payment or assessment and no industry sponsorship. This freedom allowed the instructors to try new teaching techniques and let the program evolve organically before, and even during, the program. One of the few requirements imposed on the students is that they would devote themselves completely to K-­WIDE for the entire 10 days. 23 students from all majors in the engineering college participated in our first successful offering! [Link to First Story]



After the 2012 pilot of K-WIDE, Joe and Charles had time to deconstruct and better articulate the goals and objectives of the program. The emergent goal of K-­WIDE is for students to grow in a number of mindsets and attitudes that will enable them to gain the most from the remainder of their time in college and beyond. In tackling a “wicked problem,” one that is so multidimensional that the solution cannot come from one domain of practice, students begin to explore how they might interact with the world as an engineer. It was this phase that lead to the K-WIDE hats, formal learning objectives and pedagogical techniques.


Second Offering

A second offering of K-WIDE occurred at Bucknell in Winter 2014. The only logistical change was to open the program only to sophomore engineers. The programming itself, however, changed in some significant ways.  Our more clear understanding of the learning goals enabled us to be more intentional in our instruction, mentoring, framing and assignments. 17 second year engineering students from five different majors participated.



Between the first and second offering, Joe and Charles applied for and received a grant from the Kern Family Foundation to disseminate K-WIDE to others in the Kern Engineering Education Network (KEEN). The grant enabled us to engaging in the reflection above as well as published and present the work at conferences, create a video of the 2014 experience, offer a faculty workshop and travel to other universities to explore how K-WIDE could be implemented at other schools. To date, Ohio Northern University has offered a summer version of K-WIDE to a group of Brazilian exchange students and the University of New Haven often a summer version (K-SIDE)

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