Lucia Sanchez Story

Kismet introduced Dr. Lucia Sanchez-Gilbert to the world of human-centered design and Siebel Center for Design (SCD). Associate Professor Ann Abbot and Dr. Saadeddine Shehab, Associate Director of Assessment and Research at SCD, had already begun a collaboration to bring human-centered design into Ann’s Spanish 395 course – Health Professions and U.S. Latinx Communities. Enter Lucia, who joined the course as a teaching assistant in Spring 2022 just as Ann and Saadeddine were ready to implement a design challenge that students would complete as part of the course.

Lucia, who is graduating this summer with a PhD in Spanish literature and culture from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, welcomed the opportunity to join the collaboration as an SCD Scholar and found it a wonderful learning opportunity.

“[Through this], I got to know what exactly human-centered design was and all these projects that [SCD] did with collaborating with different courses and different disciplines,” she said. “Like, for instance, something that I thought before, was that design thinking is a STEM thing. Or I would hear ‘human-centered design’ and I would think ‘oh, that’s something that people in architecture do.’ But thankfully through this collaboration, it did make me realize the amount of projects and different interdisciplinary connections that [SCD] was establishing. And so, I am grateful for that.” 

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This opportunity gave Lucia many practical skills as a researcher as well. She said she gained valuable experience through this project about qualitative coding data, thematic analysis, and quantitative analysis, which added to her repertoire. She put these new skills to use analyzing the impact that human-centered design had on students’ learning. The three of them are currently working on finalizing their article “Examining the impact of Human-Centered Design as a Framework on Students’ Learning in a Spanish for the Health Professions Course.”

The project that Lucia collaborated on highlights the many ways that human-centered design belongs in humanities and social sciences problem-solving as much as it does in STEM problem-solving. 

“So mainly some of the research that I did was finding that there are some people who are looking into innovative ways of teaching, innovative ways of learning mainly in language acquisition and for teaching language courses,” Lucia said. These people had looked to design thinking as an opportunity in their topics courses, similar to the one that Lucia was helping to collect research data on in Spring 2022. Lucia also added that her experiences have led her to want to incorporate human-centered design into lower-level language courses.

“The lower levels are so focused on vocabulary and grammar acquisition that at times people are unwilling to give a space for different ways of using that vocab,” Lucia explained. “[On a campus visit for a professor position], they asked me to do a 30-minute presentation on an innovative pedagogical approach. And so, I was like, cool, let me show you how to implement human-centered design into an intermediate Spanish classroom … In this talk I gave to them, [I showed them] how to transform a traditional written assignment, which at times [they] were asked to talk about what are the problems with the environment and what is needed to solve them, into something that was complex and rich by adding elements of human-centered design. So, for instance, adding observations or having students do more research.”

For Lucia, the integration of human-centered design into language learning doesn’t end there. She sees herself reframing the way that Spanish is conceptualized – moving away from it being seen as a foreign language toward that of a language commonly spoken in the United States – and using human-centered design to help foster that shift. 

“It’s an opportunity to have students go out into the community, into the world that surrounds them,” she said. “The practices of human-centered design, to me, and this main idea of using human-centered design to examine authentic communities can really complement the value that I place on having students truly understand that Spanish is not a foreign language, but that it’s a language that belongs to a community that surrounds us.”

Now that her experience is coming to a close, Lucia encouraged those in the humanities or social sciences to keep an open mind about Siebel Center for Design and human-centered design. “It’s an opportunity worth exploring!” An opportunity, that Lucia said, helped make her stand out in the job market. 

“I think anyone would benefit from learning more about the Siebel Center for Design. I think that, among other things, this collaboration with the Siebel Center for Design and with Saad, this project in which we were, you know, integrating human-centered design in a Spanish classroom was very attractive [to the hiring committees].”