November 25, 2011

Texas A&M Design Class Runs On Creativity

Rodney Hill

Prof. Rodney Hill teaches a design course that focuses on students uncovering their own creativity.

No textbooks, no tests, no scantrons — Prof. Rodney Hill’s creativity class at Texas A&M University doesn’t have a trace of the elements found in a traditional college course, instead relying solely on discovery and innovation. After all, it’s not every class that requires students to sign a non-disclosure agreement before attending lectures.

The non-disclosure agreement, says Hill, is mandatory, as it protects students taking the course, which is formally titled “Environmental Design 101 C: The Design Process.” This is because in the decade-long existence of the course, some students who complete the class have gone on to patent their ideas for products and launch businesses based on class assignments.

In the past, Hill, a professor of architecture, structured the project-driven course in a way that focused on the future of the world — he encouraged students to look to 2030 and beyond to imagine what sorts of goods and services would need to be created to keep up with society’s growth and technology dependence.

In this semester’s course, Hill still emphasizes the future, but for the first time ever, his students’ final grades will depend on the development of their own business.

“I tell my students to take the money they would have invested in a textbook, take that $100 and put it into a business, something that they can reap profits from,” he says.

There is usually a waiting list for the freshman-level course, which attracts students of all classifications from a slew of majors. No matter his or her age or field of study, Hill says his students have an edge that serves them well, especially when they compete in innovation competitions.

“Most scientists were in their early 20s when they came up with major innovations,” he adds. “We’ve got freshmen, seniors, and they compete in these national and international competitions with graduate students from around the world, and they beat them.”

Students’ groups within the course are also strategically designed, Hill notes. He carefully breaks the students into teams of six. In each group, there are six different majors, as well as three males and three females. This, Hill says, is done to force students to interact with one another, as well as to generate even more ideas, which is possible because of the many different points of view present in each group.

The course is strategically designed to help students discover their own ideas and become comfortable with their own creativity. Hill’s early lectures focus on techniques used to reach the right mindset to generate ideas; these include relaxation and visualization exercises, many of which Hill says his former students still use in their careers beyond graduation to cultivate fresh ideas.

“Everybody has some creative abilities,” Hill says. “We’re just uncovering them. We peel back the layers, piece by piece, and anything goes.”

Throughout the semester, students have heard from several guest lecturers, including former students, who are successful entrepreneurs, budding venture capitalists and experts, all of which help the students explore different facets of turning their ideas into sustainable businesses. They have done patent searches, looked through trademarks, studied copyright law, and competed with students from across the world, all in the name of innovation.

The class has served Texas A&M students well — products and businesses that have been born from Hill’s course include CS iPhone Repair, a business that does just what it says by repairing the popular mobile device, as well as the Glif and Cosmonaut, both products of Studio Neat, another business started by former students.

“We’re helping our students discover themselves and become comfortable with what they’re capable of,” Hill says. “This course is all about self-discovery and developing innovation.”


Media contact: Krista Smith, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4645

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4 Comments to Texas A&M Design Class Runs On Creativity

  1. This is a geat report. We need more like it so that we can highlight what is good that is happening.

  2. Michael Bunch on November 15th, 2011
  3. Totally agree with Mr. Bunch. Great feature. If A&M could clone Dr. Hill for each academic dept. on campus, the university would be energized by his creativity and leadership in the classroom. His teaching skills are unparalleled. Students and alums adore him. Dr. Hill deserves every accolade and award on his long resume. Aside from Environmental Design 101, students should also try to take his new course, co-taught with the also amazing Architecture Dean Jorge Vanegas (MGMT 640 – Managing for Creativity and Innovation).

  4. Shelly Brenckman on November 15th, 2011
  5. I am a graduate student in the Land Development program here at A&M and am currently enrolled in the MGMT 640 course, Managing for Creativity and Innovation, taught by Professor Hill and Dr. Vanegas. We’ve been told that our course is somewhat similar to the ENDS 101 course. This is the first semester the MGMT 640 course has been taught and is a collaboration between the School of Architecture and the Mays Business School. We have an eclectic mix of disciplines in our class – accounting, engineering, land development, even biotech It’s been very cool experiencing how these different ways of thinking collaborate and come up with some interesting stuff!

    This course is fun, challenging, eye-opening…and a lot of work! Just because it says creativity in the title, don’t think it’s just some willy nilly artistic class! There is a definitive structure to managing the creativity process so that maximum results are realized. We’ve had many mind-expanding lectures by both Professeor Hill and Dr. Vanegas as well as incredible guest lectures by entrepreneurs and creative solutions experts. I highly recommend it!

  6. Heather Smith on November 30th, 2011
  7. You might want to look into a similar sounding course being given at Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College:
    ENGS 21 (formnerly ES 21): A Multidisciplinary Approach to Introductory Engineering Design. Innovative projects are developed in teams and creative techniques are stressed.

  8. Ronald Kaprov on December 4th, 2011
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