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Hallie Ford School of Graduate Studies

MFA CD Curriculum

MFA Curriculum Chart

2-year, 60 credit program

Year One   Year Two

Year One - Summer Intensive

Course titleDesc.Credits
Graduate StudioDesign Essentials2
Graduate StudioStudents can choose among a selection of studio workshops.1 each

Year One - Fall Semester

Course titleDesc.Credits
Graduate SeminarProblem Identification, Stakeholder Engagement3
Critical StudiesApplied Systems Thinking3
Critical StudiesDesign Ecologies3
Graduate StudioIntroduction to Collaborative Studio3
Graduate StudioElective3

Year One - Winter Intensive

Course titleDesc.Credits
Graduate StudioWinter Intensive2

Year One - Spring Semester

Course titleDesc.Credits
Graduate SeminarResearch Methods3
Critical StudiesCultural Entrepreneurship3
Critical StudiesProfessional Practice3
Graduate StudioElective3
Graduate StudioElective (Capstone Option)3

The Collaborative Design MFA prepares students to tackle complex ecological / social / economic issues at multiple scales using a variety of design techniques.

The required course sequence builds from identifying key challenges in a multi-scale, multi-systems framework during the first semester, and provides students with research, entrepreneurial and professional skills needed to launch capstone investigations or engagements. The year concludes with a first year review and initial capstone proposal, which may be pursued over the summer.

Parallel to required courses, studios encourage students to apply critical studies and seminar knowledge to actual design projects, while receiving feedback and critique, both in studio and in seminar. Workshops provide the flexibility to offer specific skill-focused courses with special attention to emerging practices.

The second year begins with further exploration of design through collaboration, while providing expanded studio time for further development of capstone projects. The second semester provides support and resources for the completion of the MFA capstone project and written thesis.

Graduate Critique Seminars are designed to provide students with critical feedback on group and individual projects, while giving them a deeper background in current and prospective complex problems, provide them with specific collaboration and facilitation techniques; review design research methods relevant to individual and group projects; and culminate with a capstone project that launches each student into his or her chosen professional practice.

Critical Studies courses enable students to understand and work with complex systems; approach design as an interacting set of actors, objects and techniques; take initiative to make proposed design solutions a reality; and learn professional skills that will maximize effectiveness with colleagues, stakeholders and clients.

Graduate Studios are structured to give students a hands-on experience of working intimately with clients, collaborators and partners, and to go through the process of formulating a client-centric project. Each studio will facilitate a pattern of discovery, proposal, and build, where students are presented with – or develop - a design brief, and collaboratively create potential design solutions. Graduate Studio topics will adapt each year to local, regional and global opportunities and concerns, as well as faculty and student interests.

Graduate Workshops are a chance for students to build specific skills in a studio intensive. The role of the workshop instructor is to bring domain expertise or a thoughtful plan for experimentation that allows students to acquire a set of skills, techniques or way of working. This workshop experience will encourage collaborative and independent practice while supporting the individual student’s needs.

Independent Study allows for exploration of topics not incorporated into the curricula of regular classes. Students work with the chair and community partners to craft a project proposal and resources to pursue a particular line of research, design, craft, or entrepreneurial activity.


First Year Fall
COL 525 Graduate Critique Seminar 1: Problems, Stakeholders, Urban Learning Lab (3 cr)

This seminar introduces students to local, regional and global environmental - social - economic issues and stakeholders, to help students present their work in a professional manner, to articulate the issues their work is intended to address, and to formulate a basis of evaluation of their work and the work of others. The course will specifically explore issues and stakeholders relevant to students’ individual practices, potential projects and portfolios. The seminar will meet weekly to critique, in rotation, the work-in-progress of all candidates and studio lab teams. The seminar will include visiting artists and scholars, critiques with academic and industry experts, and off-campus trips to regional community stakeholders. During each graduate seminar students will work on the development of their capstone project.


COL 551 Critical Studies 1: Applied Systems Thinking (3 cr)
In this course, we will examine social-ecological systems and regimes from a specific perspective: the roles of public and private individuals and organizations as agents of change. Seeking a systemic and critical understanding of ethical bases for social activism, we will discuss successes and failures of current social-ecological regimes (“business as usual”) in providing for social wellbeing, as well as the bases for considering the wellbeing of nature more broadly. We will examine the composition and relative stability of regimes, and we will examine frameworks for understanding and assessing the effectiveness of social inquiries and interventions aimed at regime transformation.

COL 552 Critical Studies 2: Design Ecologies (3 cr)
Through lectures, discussions, and field trips we will explore successful strategies of designing for complexity in Portland, Oregon. The instructor and guest presenters will discuss iterative, generative and transdisciplinary design processes as they relate to dynamic systems. Skills such as matrix mapping, creating cooperative networks, adaptive processes and effective means of client engagement will be demonstrated. This course will explore successful strategies for creating solutions for diverse ecological, social and economic issues. It will also train students to recognize the design opportunities through system indicators in the world around them. Students will develop their own design epistemology and tool kit for strategic planning.

First Year Spring
COL 526 Graduate Critique Seminar 2: Research + Insights (3 cr)

The course is intended to introduce students to various design research methodologies both in theory and practice including, but not limited to, qualitative and quantitative research utilizing the following lenses: Anthropologist, Scientist, Designer, Journalist, Marketer and Historian. The seminar will specifically explore design methodologies and issues/stakeholders relevant to students’ individual practices, potential projects and proposed capstones. The seminar will meet weekly offering a mixture of lecture, field trips, guest speakers, and critique. Students will be expected to engage in research resulting in written, visual and oral presentations.

COL 553 Critical Studies 3: Cultural Entrepreneurship (3 cr)
This course will explore the many dimensions of cultural and social entrepreneurship from meaning and ethics to the intricacies of designing a social enterprise. This course will give students a toolkit (identifying opportunity, organizational structure, collaboration, mobilizing resources, budgeting, scaling, risk and measuring impact) that will allow them to create a livelihood by developing a mission driven enterprise. Cultural entrepreneurship is an emerging branch of social entrepreneurship. It is a term related to enterprises that promote indigenous arts, creative activism and innovations designed to change culture.

COL 554 Critical Studies 4: Professional Practice (3 cr)
This course will help students learn and refine skills for professional life after graduation. By the end of the class students will have a thoughtful and well-designed online presence that presents the individual and their work to potential collaborators and employers. Students will have an updated CV and a pdf portfolio. Students will be comfortable keeping up-to-date with job and grant opportunities, and will have successfully completed job and/or grant applications. Students will also be given the option of initiating a kickstarter or other online crowd-sourced funding project. Finally, students will demonstrate professional skills by developing an exhibition strategy for presenting their capstone to the public.

Second Year Fall
COL 625 Graduate Critique Seminar 3: Collaboration, Facilitation, Participation (3 cr)

This course will explore different models of collaboration, facilitation and participation as they apply to local, regional and global ecological -social - economic issues and stakeholders, help students to present their work in a professional manner, to articulate the issues their work is intended to address, and to formulate a basis of evaluation of their work and the work of others. It will also explore these models as they apply to students’ individual practices, potential projects and portfolios. The seminar will meet weekly to critique, in rotation, the work-in-progress of all candidates and studio lab teams. The seminar will include visiting artists and scholars, critiques with academic and industry experts, and off-campus trips to regional community stakeholders.

Second Year Spring
COL 626 Graduate Critique Seminar 4: Capstone Project (3 cr)

Capstone seminar is intended to help students realize a successful final project by providing structure and guidance during the completion of the capstone. This course provides students with an opportunity to present, refine and receive feedback on their capstone project. Regular presentations and critiques of capstone projects will be supplemented with small workshops, lectures and site visits throughout the semester. It is essential that students meet each milestone and deadline provided in the course syllabus in order to remain in good standing in the program.

COL 651 Critical Studies 5: Thesis Writing (3 cr)
This course is intended to help students realize a successful final thesis by providing structure and guidance during the completion of written work. This course provides students with an opportunity to present, refine and receive feedback on the written thesis, which supports the capstone project. Regular presentations and reviews of thesis drafts will be supplemented with small workshops and lectures throughout the semester. It is essential that students meet each milestone and deadline provided in this course syllabus in order to remain in good standing in the program.

Both Years
COL 501/601 Collaborative Design Studio (3 cr engagements)

Collaborative Design Studios are structured to give students a hands-on experience of working intimately with clients, collaborators and partners, and to go through the process of formulating a project that must be client-centric. Each studio begins with a design brief and initial resources, moves to problems and challenges, ideation, prototype solutions, and finishes with deliverables. Studio design briefs will adapt each year to local, regional and global opportunities, as well as faculty and student interests. Topic area include: Design Ethnography, Product Design, Living Systems Design, Redesign, Participatory Design, Disruptive Design, Institutional Design, Video Design, Sound Design, Rapid Prototyping, Design Essentials, Science, Policy & Design.

COL 511/601 Collaborative Design Workshop (1 cr engagements)
Collaborative Design Workshops are a chance for students to build specific skills in a studio intensive. The role of the workshop instructor is to bring domain expertise or a thoughtful plan for experimentation that allows students to acquire a set of skills, techniques or way of working. This workshop experience will encourage collaborative and independent practice while supporting the individual student’s needs. Topic areas include: Design Applications, Design Epiphanies, Indigenous Design, Web Design, Game Design, Space Design, Mapping Problems and Solutions, Brainstorming and Facilitation, The Pitch, Grant Writing, Business Planning, The Infographic.


Summer Intensives 2014

Design Approaches to Wildland Fire – June 3 to 8, Terrebonne OR
This one credit field workshop will examine the science and politics that guide national fire policy, and explore design approaches to natural resource problems like pre-fire treatment, response, resource utilization, and human – wildland interactions.  The studio will compare and contrast two geographies: 1) The 92,000 acre B&B Complex Fire that burned in the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests during the summer of 2003. Field time in the B&B will consist of fieldwork on a long-term fire study. 2) The studio will also visit burned and unburned sites in the Ochoco National Forest, and explore potential uses of Western Juniper with wood products producers, artisans and entrepreneurs. The studio will use Monkey Face Ranch, near Smith Rock State Park, as our base of operation.

Design Essentials Studio August 21 – 31, Portland, OR
This two-credit summer intensive studio, recommended for incoming MFA Collaborative Design students, will review design fundamentals, elements and tools including 2D and 3D basics, composition/proportion/typography, Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, and materials & manipulation processes. The studio will also provide an overview of new media techniques and practices including coding/processing, physical computing – Arduino, and information graphics. Finally students will review the basics of documenting, photographing, presenting, and exhibiting work.

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