Hands-on learning. Real-world impact.

A capstone experience like no other.

Collaborate on a multidisciplinary team for an unforgettable two-term project experience.

Use human-centered design to create something that makes a difference in the world.

Go beyond the bubble of campus to work on a real-world challenge for a partner organization.


We're so glad you asked!

What will we actually be doing?

You will work on a design project for two terms. You will join a multidisciplinary team, choose your topic, conduct primary research with users, synthesize your findings to frame a compelling problem statement, and then brainstorm, prototype, and test various solutions.

We will review techniques covered in Design Thinking (ENGS 12), and then learn several new methods for design innovation, including modes of concept generation, prototype fabrication, and advanced project management. A lot of time in class will be dedicated to group work with peer and instructor feedback sessions.

Our most important goal is that by the end of the two terms, your project is real  and in the world. It can't just be a concept or sketch or PowerPoint presentation. The aim is implementation with measurable impact.

What will I get out of this class?

In this capstone experience you will collaborate with people from different academic backgrounds, honing your expertise in your field while expanding your skillset by learning from others, thus preparing for the post-Dartmouth professional world. You will come out with a fantastic portfolio piece and story to tell of how you tackled a real-world challenge and had measurable impact.

Our main aims are that by the end of the two terms you feel even more equipped and empowered to:

  • identify and articulate problems in the world that need solving;
  • lead and participate in an effective team of creative collaborators;
  • manage a complex project, including setting timelines and milestones;
  • generate a large number of solution ideas, and test them iteratively;
  • give and receive constructive feedback well;
  • articulate your transferrable skills;
  • craft clarity from ambiguity;
  • innovate in any domain.

What kind of project can I work on?

Design thinking is extremely content-versatile, and challenges from which you will be able to choose may include issues in healthcare, education, sustainability, social justice, etc. The format of your project's output can be: a physical product, an app, a service, an experience, a brand/campaign, a startup, or any format that feels relevant to the challenge. 

Have a look at this list of previous SDC projects for more.

We work with organizations outside of Dartmouth to scope projects for students to work on. We also collaborate with the Dartmouth Center for Social Impact to match relevant Upper Valley nonprofit organizations with student teams in this course.

Some of our previous partner organizations have included:

  • Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
  • Women's Health Resource Center
  • Woodstock Union High School
  • Upper Valley Haven
  • Efficiency Vermont
  • and many more.

How much work will it be?

A LOT. This is not a good class if you’re looking for something light. The deal with design is that you get out of it what you put into it, and a commitment to immersing yourself in the problem at hand is required if you want to get anywhere interesting and worthwhile. There will be no tests or papers; instead, you should expect to spend a significant amount of time outside of class (20+ hours per week) working with your team on your project.

When is this class offered?

The Senior Design Challenge takes place over winter + spring (you have to commit to both terms; you'll get 1 credit for each term: 2 credits total). The time slots are 10A during the winter term, and 3B during the spring term.

Who can take this class?

Any Dartmouth senior, regardless of major. We welcome students from all disciplines, including the arts, sciences, humanities, social sciences, and engineering.

Are there any prereqs?

Yes: ENGS12 (Design Thinking) is a prerequisite for taking the Senior Design Challenge.

Does this course count for the Human-Centered Design Minor?

Yes, it counts as both courses required for the "Design Electives" category of the Human-Centered Design minor.

How do I sign up?

Admission to the SDC is by application. The application cycle for 2024 is now closed. Please come back here in the fall of 2024 to apply for SDC 2025.

What are students who took the class saying?

"Senior Design Challenge has been, without a doubt, the best academic experience that I have had at Dartmouth."

"I can wholeheartedly say that the Senior Design Challenge has positively impacted my Dartmouth experience in a way that no other academic endeavor has done in the past. Through this course, I have grown more confident in my creative abilities, learned the power of fully trusting the human-centered design process, discovered how to truly thrive in a small group setting, and had the opportunity to see our efforts positively impact those around us."

"SDC has helped serve as a reminder of why I chose to come to Dartmouth in the first place—the opportunity to dive headfirst into a project that has the potential to positively impact [people’s] lives while working with an incredible team of individuals… is the type of experiential and social impact-focused type of class that attracted me to this school."

"[SDC] has allowed me to discover connections between my areas of study, and to apply my diverse background to real world scenarios. I’ve been able to put into practice different skills that I have acquired throughout my years at Dartmouth."

"I feel very lucky because this project truly has opened my eyes to new possibilities regarding what I can do in the future."

"These projects make me feel like I am doing something way more meaningful than say, writing an essay, because what we are thinking about has the potential to impact people in a real way."

"I have enjoyed building my creative/entrepreneurial confidence [in SDC] because I have struggled with feelings of mediocrity on this campus."

"This class has just made me feel better about being a team member in projects and has shown me how much I can contribute."

"I am definitely talking about this class in my job search because I think I am learning so many skills that are applicable to the "real world" which has been a really useful and enjoyable process."

"This class has allowed me feel like I’m working toward something that’s bigger than just a class and more important than just a grade."

"The Senior Design Challenge helped me grow as a designer more than any other experience at Dartmouth."

"It was the capstone of my Dartmouth experience... I will never forget it, and I think I will use the skills I learned in this class for the rest of my life."