Novel educational experience give students a platform for creating meaningful societal impact

By The Office of Engineering Communications
April 08, 2019

This article is from the series Conversations With Chairs and Directors.

Margaret Martonosi, the Hugh Trumbull Adams '35 Professor of Computer Science and director of the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education discusses innovative approaches to help both undergraduate and graduate students chart unique pathways through their time at Princeton.

This is the seventh in a monthly series of updates from chairs and center directors on news and developments in their departments.

Photo of margaret martonosi

Q. What makes the Keller Center distinctive?

A. At its core, the Keller Center is about giving students and faculty a platform from which to create meaningful and measurable societal impact through innovative education, entrepreneurship and design thinking.

The center was founded with the goal of providing novel educational experiences to students and helping them chart unique pathways through their time at Princeton. Keller’s curricular and co-curricular experiences often bring together students from engineering and from all other majors on campus. Later in their careers, these students will find that achieving real societal impact through innovation and entrepreneurship depends on this kind of interaction and teamwork.

Keller creates and supports innovative classes in engineering and also at the interface of technology and society. In addition to in-class classroom experiences, we run the eLab summer startup accelerator program and the Tiger Challenge design-thinking social impact program as well as internships such as Princeton Startup Immersion Program (PSIP), and REACH, an international research internship program. All of these courses and programs are open to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Through these and other programs, the Keller Center is a leader in incubating new intellectual themes on campus. Keller has traditionally been seen as a leader in entrepreneurship, and will continue to offer such leadership, but more recently we are also playing a big role in topics like the cross-cutting aspects of design and design thinking.

Q. What is new at the Keller Center?

A. I mentioned Keller’s growing emphasis on design and design thinking. Design thinking pertains to a process or set of principles incorporating ethnography, synthesis, ideation and rapid prototyping, ideally suited to addressing broad interdisciplinary “grand challenge” societal problems. We are emphasizing both courses and co-curricular programs in design thinking. We are also partnering with other disciplines to build bridges between the design and design thinking concepts covered within Keller’s curriculum, coupled to domain-specific design concepts in other departments and topics. In addition to giving undergraduate and graduate students useful design approaches for employing in their own discipline, many of our recent programs and partnerships explore ways for multi-disciplinary teams to have societal impact in the local community and beyond.

Among others, we are offering courses demonstrating how good design can enhance communications and lead to better solutions for complex challenges, including one course that's applying design thinking to the United Nations sustainable development goals. Students in our Tiger Challenge program are working to assist local government and community organization tackle difficult problems. Other classes are helping students come up with new ways for non-profit organizations to address social and environmental challenges.

Q. What would you most like people to know about Keller that is not well understood?

A. Keller is not just for undergrads! Although we offer plenty of programming and resources to our undergraduate students we also serve graduate students, postdocs, faculty and staff who are interested in entrepreneurship, design thinking and social impact.

Graduate students are welcomed in our internship programs, our eLab accelerator and our courses. Grad students, faculty members and researchers have long played key roles in Keller's Innovation Forum, our annual showcase of research with potential for commercialization. In addition to these opportunities, we are expanding to develop other programs specifically aimed at the interests and busy schedules of graduate students. For example, we are now earmarking specific office hours and one-on-one times where graduate students can talk with distinguished visitors, notable alumni and seminar speakers in our The Creative Mind lecture series. We host Coffee and Conversation events as well as one-on-one office hours exclusively for graduate student, researchers and faculty. Recent guests include Geoff Yang ’81, co-founder of RedPoint Ventures, and Gideon Yu, former chief financial officer of Facebook and YouTube. 

The Keller Center is about building bridges among groups on campus and out into the world as well. We want to make sure that students, faculty and staff across many topic areas see opportunities in Keller’s offerings to learn and work with us.