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.

Conduct field research and iterate creatively to tackle a challenge posed by a client 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 form a 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 experience?

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;
  • assemble, lead, and participate in an effective team of collaborators;
  • manage a complex project, including setting timelines and milestones;
  • generate a large number of solution ideas, and test them iteratively;
  • craft clarity from ambiguity;
  • articulate your transferrable skills;
  • 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, consumer products, food systems, social justice, etc. As long as the problem is sufficiently open-ended and human-centered, design thinking is likely to be an appropriate vehicle with which to tackle it. 

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. 

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.

Our 2018 partner organizations were:

  • Burton Snowboards
  • Efficiency Vermont
  • Upper Valley Haven
  • Peter Sheehan Diabetes Care Foundation
  • The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice

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 and spring 2019 (you have to commit to both terms; you'll get 1 credit for each term: 2 credits total). The time slots are in the process of being confirmed, but are likely to be 10A for 19W, and 3B for 19S.

Who can take this class?

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

Are there any prereqs?

Yes: ENGS12 is a prerequisite for taking the Senior Design Challenge. Exceptions may be granted on a case-by-case basis: contact us if you wish to discuss taking the SDC without having taken ENGS12.

Which distribs does this fulfill?

This course fulfills the TAS distributive requirement. It also counts for 2 courses in the Human-Centered Design minor (the entire "Design Electives" category).

What are students in the class saying?

"The decision to take the Senior Challenge Design is probably one of the best ones I’ve taken at Dartmouth."

"[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."

"This course has been incredibly meaningful to me and has truly marked my last year at Dartmouth. It has been a culminating experience in a number of ways. "

"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 but enjoyable process."

"I am really enjoying this class and I have learned so much... It is a whole new way to look at creating a project or program and it truly has been an amazing life experience."

"This class has been unlike anything I have taken before, and I feel that it has been an excellent capstone to the Human-Centered Design minor."

"Adopting a team mindset for the duration of two terms is a unique undertaking within the context of Dartmouth, and I have found that it has, in many ways, shifted my attitude from single-minded (focused solely on myself and my own performance) to open-minded (taking into account the ideas of others and working towards a common goal)."

"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."