As I think back to my experiences in the Design Lab, I am struck by the community we have created in just a few months. Being in graduate school can sometimes, perhaps surprisingly, be a somewhat isolating experience. Having a narrow, specific area of study can mean that graduate students are often interacting with, and learning from, a relatively small group of people throughout much of our educational experience. As a result of this, there can be a lack of shared knowledge between students in different disciplines, and the knowledge of these different disciplines can become siloed.
Graduate school is often a time when we jump into the deep end and work as hard as ever in order to learn as much as we can. We do this in hopes that we may make a deeper contribution through our future work. But I wonder what the cost is, when we burrow so deeply in our areas of study at the expense of understanding methods and teachings of other disciplines?
Experiencing the University community as a space of exploration--a space where everything is to be learned--means not dismissing those experiences that don’t at first seem to fit neatly into our discipline’s degree requirements or even our career goals. If narrowing in on a specific area of study can be likened to a focusing lens that allows us to better see what’s up close as well as further out on the horizon, then out-of-the-box, exploratory experiences may shed light on the periphery and allow us to comprehend the vast, rolling hills and valleys of an expansive ideological landscape.
The Design Lab Residency has been an opportunity for a diverse group of students to work and learn together. Our academic interests span the offerings of the University, and our personal interests are just as varied. We find time each week to gather, despite our different schedules, and we work on our individual Design Lab projects as well as teach sessions on different topics. We call these co-working and co-learning sessions, respectively.
During co-working sessions, I’ve had the support of other Design Lab members as I think through possibilities for a podcast I’m creating on the future of higher education at the University of Michigan. The other Design Lab members have acted as a sounding board for ideas I’ve had and have also provided perspective and inspiration through ideas of their own.
In co-learning sessions, Design Lab residents have taught lessons on things like letterpress printing, on-the-go reporting tools, and how to use an Arduino. Myself and fellow Design Lab resident Caroline led a session on how to use the Design Lab’s sewing machine, with each member creating designs on fabric squares that will be sewn together into a Design Lab quilt.
Being involved in the Design Lab has added a special richness to my graduate experience, a richness that I know can be rare in a world where it’s easier to view experiences as means to an end rather than ends in and of themselves. I’m grateful for the community of the Design Lab and the opportunity to explore, to play, to create, and, most of all, to learn.