The latest in a series of one-on-one conversations with SVA department chairs.
In September 2012, SVA is launching a groundbreaking new graduate program, MFA Design for Social Innovation. Chaired by Cheryl Heller, faculty and board Chair of Pop!Tech and CEO of Heller Communication Design, the two-year program will teach students how to use design thinking to bring about positive social change. Heller took some time out of her very busy schedule (she’s helming Designathon for Social Innovation and has upcoming lectures at SOCAP 11, PICNIC, and DOM Research Lab, to name a few) to chat with the Briefs via e-mail about her vision for the program and what students can expect to gain from it.
Tell me about MFA Design for Social Innovation.
MFA Design for Social Innovation at SVA will prepare the next design leaders in social innovation, and accelerate the impact of social innovation everywhere through design. Social innovation design has application wherever innovation is needed: in every business, mission-based organization, community, society and government. The era of businesses controlling the future without involving society in its creation has ended. Lasting change will take place only through innovation that engages all disparate stakeholders and aligns them around a common vision that all can see, and to which they are ready and willing to contribute. This is the role of design for social innovation, and these are the next innovation leaders—the people who will help turn complex challenges into actionable opportunities, and create the integrated systems and processes that will lead to a vibrant, ethically responsible future. DSI is the first MFA program to create a learning path for designers to play a leading role in this expansive field. For applicants, this is the map, the toolkit, and the community of mentors and partners—the doorway into a life of purpose, impact, and fulfillment.
What kind of student are you expecting will apply?
Designers looking for meaningful and engaging professional work. Graduates in other disciplines who want to learn to harness the power of design to create positive impact. Social entrepreneurs who want the skills and knowledge to achieve their mission more quickly and fully. Professionals who have been working in business and want to play a more central, strategic role in their industry. Anyone who wants to have a successful, fulfilling career by turning their good intentions into positive outcomes and use design to drive innovation in businesses, communities, and cultures.
What are you most looking forward to about starting?
Meeting the first 25 students whose talent and passion will define this amazing program. All the planning, the conversations and strategies that our faculty has been engaged in, designing the space, and the fact that our corporate partners, NGOs, and communities that will be our “clients” are so excited to begin—all this has created an enormous sense of anticipation. I cannot wait to put names and faces to the people who we will help on their journey, and who will teach us in return, as great students always do.
What can enrolled students expect from their first year?
They can expect to spend time on self-reflection of their own purpose and direction, guided by leadership coaches who work with CEOs. We believe that a life dedicated to creating positive change in the world must be deeply satisfying in order to be sustainable. Students will be mentored by extraordinary faculty members and lecturers who are all working pioneers in the field of design and social innovation. Students will also work in the real world solving real problems with clients in every sector, and will take on exciting and daunting challenges that inspire growth and learning.
Being in New York City, students can expect guests to stop by to work with them who are real heroes in the world of design for social innovation. They will also benefit from diversity—of mind, culture, world view, and discipline—in every aspect of the program, and work in an atmosphere of kindness, support and encouragement. DSI students will share learning with the other remarkable Master’s programs at SVA—the most exciting and diverse programs anywhere. On top of that, they will work in a physical space designed to support collaboration and creativity, and will receive the best learning experience possible to prepare them to be the next leaders in design for social innovation.
What do you hope students will get out of the program by the end of it?
They will graduate knowing what aspect of design for social innovation they want to work in, because they will have experienced them all. They will have deep, diverse experiences—and relationships—that will help them attract the best jobs. Our graduates will not only be prepared to play transformative roles in business and society, they will already be skilled and experienced in doing so.
Photo courtesy of Cheryl Heller.