Kansas State University


The Loop

First-Year Design Students Experimenting Leadership Development through Self-Directed Learning

Guest blog post by Dorna Eshrati
PhD Student in Environmental Design and Planning
College of Architecture, Planning and Design

The Graduate Student Leadership Development Program (GSLDP)
, a program created by the Staley School of Leadership Studies, the Graduate School, and the Kansas Leadership Center, provides K-State graduate students an opportunity to develop leadership skills to make a positive change in their work, studies, and student organizations. Dorna, Eshrati, a Ph.D. student of Environmental Design and Planning in the College of Architecture, Planning and Design at Kansas State University completed the program in 2017 and has been able to infuse the leadership skills developed through the GSLDP into her current work as she teaches first-year Environmental Design studios.

The design studios provide an introduction to the design professions of architecture, interior architecture and landscape architecture. Drawing upon concepts learned in the GSLDP, Dorna helps beginning students get adapted to challenges of the design process by engaging them in a short self-directed project. She has incorporated students’ ideas to structure both the written and graphical content of the exercise which was called “Who I am and What Do I DO as a Designer?”

Initially, students found it challenging to give a reasonable answer to that very question, “Who I am and What Do I DO as a Designer?” To encourage more independent thinking and self-reflection, Dorna gave her students the freedom to choose what and how they went about designing. Students practiced leadership development both horizontally and vertically, learning how to approach both technical and adaptive challenges. Dorna is intentional about integrating students’ backgrounds and their priorities in the design field. By doing this, the students’ mindset identities and motivations as designers grew and they were able to leverage their skills outside the design realm.

In a reflection survey done after the project, several students commented on how beneficial and enjoyable they found the project. Here are a couple of their testimonies:

[I learned] the things that are important to me as a designer; what it takes to overcome challenges for me; and how to organize my own thoughts when I do not have restrictions.

I learned to do things to better myself not just for the assignment.

I am now in a different mindset of attention to detail.

It showed me how important the process is and that I need to put all my ideas out whether good or bad.

I thought this project was really fun and I learned a lot about myself as a designer and a person. I really enjoyed it.

I think this was an amazing project that we can be proud of . . .  I think this should be a first-year project.

By leveraging the leadership skills and practices developed in the GSLDP and encouraging the students to spend time reflecting on “self” and the motivators that drive their work, Dorna ended up with a classroom of first-year students who had designed something that uniquely reflected who they are as architects.

Dorna is now collaborating with Kerry Priest, Associate Professor in the Staley School of Leadership Studies at Kansas State University to publish the outcomes of this action-research project. The results of this study can help design schools with curriculum planning to not only enhance students’ technical skills but to help them grow to better deal with design process ambiguities and adaptive challenges.

Eshrati, D. (2018). Who AM I and What DO I DO as a Designer project statement cover page [Digital Graphic].
Eshrati, D. (2018). Who AM I and What DO I DO as a Designer project introduction page [Digital Graphic].
Image Citations

  1. Unknown (n.d.). Effective Communication [illustration]. Retrieved February 2018 from https://www.ashford.edu/online-degrees/career-tips/critical-elements-of-effective-communication
  2. Unknown (n.d.). Best Conversation [illustration]. Retrieved February 2018 from https://www.themuse.com/advice/7-conversation-starters-better-than-what-do-you-doand-7-that-are-even-worse


One thought on “First-Year Design Students Experimenting Leadership Development through Self-Directed Learning
  1. I would like to know more about your research and try your exercise with my freshman landscape architect students. Are you willing to share more information about your activity and the extended text of your research?

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