Design Thinking Pioneer Sara Beckman to Expand Role on Campus

Sara Beckman, a pioneer in design and innovation thinking, is expanding her role on campus as the new Chief Learning Officer of the Paul and Stacy Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation at the College of Engineering, the college announced today.

Beckman will continue her current 50% appointment at Haas and dedicate the other 50% of her time to the new Jacobs Institute, guiding efforts to develop design-related curricula to leverage the capabilities of the Institute. One of her first projects will be to plan a new undergraduate minor in design that will give students across the campus more opportunities to practice hands-on design, prototyping and even commercial development of their inventions in facilitated, multi-disciplinary team settings.

“Sara has brought a lot of innovative thinking to Haas that has helped us to differentiate our MBA program in the marketplace,” says Dean Rich Lyons. “I’m certain she will have a similar positive impact on engineering and on further opportunities for our own Haas undergraduates.”

Beckman first brought design thinking to the Berkeley MBA program 20 years ago, long before it came in vogue at business schools. Inspired by a student who was a designer before entering the MBA program, she launched the first Haas course on design—Design as a Strategic Business Issue—in 1993. Subsequently, along with engineering professor Alice Agogino, she co-founded Managing New Product Development, one of the school’s all-time most popular courses. The course takes teams of engineering, business, and design students from idea to first-pass prototype in one semester, culminating in a presentation to a panel of design judges.

A more recent, ground-breaking achievement was the development of the Problem Finding Problem Solving course (PFPS), a core course in the Berkeley Innovative Leader Curriculum that gives students an appreciation for how to frame and solve problems, leveraging tools and methods from critical, design and systems thinking. The class provides a foundation for follow-on, experience-based project courses. Haas staff have also taken the course, and apply it often in their work as well.

Beckman has had a long-term relationship with the College of Engineering as one of the original co-directors of the Management of Technology Program, a program that brought together business and engineering students around technology management issues. 

“I see the minor in design as a terrific opportunity to renew the bonds between engineering and business at Berkeley around a topic of shared interest—developing in our students the skills needed to design and innovate in collaborative team settings,” Beckman says. 

Lyons agrees: “Business and technology today are so inextricably interwoven that it is key to success in either field to know about the other,” Lyons adds. “With Sara playing a key role at both schools, we look forward to building new bridges and opportunities.”

Sara Beckman (right) with MBA students