Engineer David Lee wins funding for public benefit technology program


David Lee, assistant professor of computer media at UC Santa Cruz, received funding through the University Technology Network of Public Interest (PIT-UN) for a program to provide students with community-based experiential learning. The program involves a growing community consulting firm providing public benefit technology to help local organizations, and it includes both formal coursework and extracurricular opportunities for students.

Lee, who runs the Tech4Good Laboratory at UCSC Baskin School of Engineering, will build on a successful pilot program he led last spring with 130 students in his Business Strategy and Information Systems class. Work with the Santa Cruz Mountain Art Center, the class carried out an extensive consulting project in strategic assessment and design exploration.

“We organized the whole class around a large project, blending aspects of business strategy and human-centered design to develop a deep understanding of the needs and strategic direction of the partner organization.” , Lee said.

The students interviewed more than 100 volunteers, staff and clients of the nonprofit arts organization, conducted more than 50 interviews, analyzed the results and brainstormed ideas. They explored dozens of concepts to help meet the needs of the center, several of which were selected for further development.

With the PIT-UN grant, a new iteration of the course will include an extracurricular component open to more students than the approximately 150 in the formal course.

“We can now build on what we’ve learned to build something that works in a sustainable way, including an extracurricular component so that students who may not have time to take the course can participate for a few hours per day. week and still accomplish something in the real world, ”Lee said. “Usually it’s difficult to take project-based courses with a large number of students, so one aspect of that is to create opportunities for more students. “

To organize student work on such a large and complex project, Lee uses a new approach based on his research into the use of “micro-role hierarchies” in experiential learning. The idea is to divide the project into discrete pieces (micro-roles), while monitoring individual progress to ensure that each student is progressing towards their learning goal.

“It’s organized like a workplace, so students can experience what it’s like to complete a big project within an organization,” Lee explained. “The goal is to help them acquire not only the skills necessary to analyze a problem, but also the skills necessary to collaborate, lead teams and organize their work. “

The partner organization, on the other hand, benefits from a more comprehensive assessment and consultation than it would get from a student project or a smaller internship.

“We want this to be valuable for the community partner and valuable for the students,” Lee said. “An important part of this is laying the groundwork for deep engagement with partners to understand the organization and their needs. Ideas generated from this may lead to additional collaborations in the future. “

Lee’s Business Strategy and Information Systems course attracts a wide range of students. Most are enrolled in engineering school or the business management economics program, but Lee said he also has many students in psychology and other social science programs.

“It is designed to engage anyone interested in how to design technology for the public interest and do so in a way that is grounded in a thorough understanding of organizational needs and business strategy,” he said. .

The PIT-UN grant is important for more than the funding it provides, Lee said. “Being part of this PIT-UN community of people doing the same sort of thing, developing new experiential learning experiences around technology for the public interest, will really make an impact. “

The Public Interest Technology University Network is a partnership that fosters collaboration between universities and colleges committed to building the burgeoning field of public interest technology and training a new generation of civic-minded technologists.

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