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Students learned to solve real life challenges at the Unite! summer school

The Unite! summer school on design thinking and product development brought together over 30 students from six European universities in the Unite! alliance.
Students working in groups at the Unite! Summer School on Design Thinking and Product Development in August  2023

The three-week course included remote studying and one week on the Aalto University campus for lectures, workshops and prototyping. The students were given the task to find new applications for hyperspectral imaging technology. The groups created solutions and built prototypes for issues like monitoring deforestation and detecting structural hazards, to mention a few. Throughout the week in Aalto, students were given tools to work on this sort of real life challenges that they can be later use in their professional life.

Sara Figueiredo, doctoral researcher and creative strategist at the Aalto Design Factory Global Network, was one of the teachers in the course. According to Sara students in courses with peers from diverse and multiple backgrounds gain global perspectives, encouraging them to think beyond their local context and understand the global implications of their studies. “Additionally, it exposes them to diverse approaches and standpoints, challenging them to be more open-minded and adaptable in their thinking. This cognitive flexibility can improve problem-solving skills and creative thinking”, says Sara, 

Students building a prototype at the Unite! Summer School on  Design Thinking and Product Development in August  23
Students building a prototype.

Learning culminated in building a prototype

“The aim of this course was to follow the design thinking methodology to solve real life problems and to help society by using modern technology, proposing innovative ideas with multidisciplinary international teams and learning about electronics, modelling and additive manufacturing to create a final prototype of the solution”, explains Mònica Guri, who studies industrial design engineering and product development at UPC in Spain. With her teammates, they designed a water analyser that determines if water is drinkable or not by taking a sample and a hyperspectral image of it.

For Alberto Salido, a bachelor student in industrial design and mechanical engineering from Universitat Politècnia de Catalunya in Spain, the summer school was a good opportunity to have an experience abroad, especially since he is not planning on doing a longer Erasmus exchange. The chance to go to another country attracted him to apply.  

“The whole process of design thinking was really interesting, I feel like it’s the first project where I actually see how research impacts the final product and how working with people from different disciplines leads to a good end”, summarizes Alberto Salido the learnings from the course. 

Students working in a group at the Unite! Summer School on Design Thinking and Product Development at Aalto University in August 2023
Students working on their project. Mònica Guri on the right and Alberto Salido in the middle.

Gaining cultural intelligence

For Sara Figueiredo as a teacher, having international students in workshops or courses offers distinctive opportunities to cultivate cultural intelligence, a key skill to work effectively and respectfully in diverse cultural contexts. ”The presence of these students not only brings various viewpoints and ideas that make class discussions more enriching and dynamic, but it also helps people better understand different cultures. It promotes cross-cultural cognition and expands perspectives for both teachers and students, which is crucial in our interconnected world”, explains Sara. 

Thanks to the course, Mònica Guri has been able to apply the knowledge acquired throughout her studies in a practical case with a visionary project. “I have also been able to improve my interpersonal skills, for instance, to manage a work group, share ideas in a welcoming environment and communicate in public”, says Mònica. 

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