"Design Your NYU Shanghai" Course Brings Together All Members of the Class of 2025
It’s 9 PM in Shanghai and 9 AM in New York. Shanghai native Zhong Mu ‘25 and Giorgio Zuccarelli ‘25 of São Paulo, Brazil (but who is studying in New York this semester as part of the “Go Local” program) have been paired together in a Zoom breakout room to exchange childhood memories, and then to illustrate their partner’s memories. When it came to illustrating Zuccarelli’s memory, Zhong was stumped, since it took place in a beach house -- and she had never seen a beach house in real life.
“Beach houses are something we don’t have in China, we only see them in cartoons or movies, but Giorgio told me that he actually lived in a beach house in his childhood!” says Zhong. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, it’s like he lived in a movie!’ It’s just something that reminded me of how different our environments are.”
Zhong, Zuccarelli, and the 505 other members of the Class of 2025 are all simultaneously enrolled this fall in Associate Arts Professor Emily Tsiang’s online class, "Design Your NYU Shanghai," meeting once a week, enabling students to sign in from wherever they are in the world.
When NYU Shanghai leaders realized this summer that ongoing COVID restrictions would prevent the majority of international students from arriving in Shanghai in time for the new school year, they knew they had to find a way to ensure that the cross-cultural bonding that is a highlight of the first year experience would not be sacrificed.
They turned to Tsiang to create a first year course based on her Design Thinking course that might bring the whole class together regardless of where they might be starting their NYU Shanghai careers.
The inaugural Design Your NYU Shanghai course, which is a required course for all NYU Shanghai first year students, is a chance for the Class of 2025 to apply Design Thinking principles to their lives and reflect on how they want their college years to look. It’s also a time for them to share their aspirations and form connections, even as they are currently separated by oceans and continents.
The class is supported by some 30 facilitators (pictured above), who work with the students throughout the semester. “One thing I really love about the class is that it truly is community supported,” says Tsiang. “We have undergrads, alums, and staff who are facilitating the course.”
The 9 PM Tuesday Shanghai start means that students are Zooming into the class at vastly different times (including 6 AM in California!), but the synchronous nature of the class is instrumental to the course. “One of the wonderful aspects of being on campus together is you have these spontaneous collisions,” says Tsiang. “Since the first year class isn’t able to be in person together, the hope is that this class helps to facilitate a consistent place where they can come together and connect in a meaningful way.”
During the one-hour session, students find themselves first in the big Zoom room with 500 classmates, and then throughout the class, they are placed in breakout rooms for chances to reflect in smaller groups. Each student is also assigned a partner to meet with consistently throughout the semester, and in small groups of three to six to six other students to meet and discuss with in a more intimate setting.
“The smaller breakout rooms are definitely my favorite part of the class because every time we are assigned different rooms and we meet new people from different countries, from different parts of the world,” says Zhong. “We’re all in different places, but it’s amazing to see how people are living on the same planet, but how our living habits, our past experiences, our cultures, are so diverse and so different from one another. And it’s just amazing to recognize this because we don’t have many chances in our life to notice things like that.”
The first two class meetings were full of energy, with fun music and a curated playlist that welcomed students as they entered the Zoom room. As part of the visual thinking section, students were asked to visualize and draw important memories, list ten meaningful moments from the last 5-10 years, and create a meaning map for their homework. There was lots of movement, with the whole zoom room of 500, asked to stand up from their chairs and dance and stretch together.
Left: Zhong’s drawing of her partner’s childhood memory. Right: Students hold up drawings of their partner’s childhood memories.
Zhong shares her drawing of Zuccarelli’s beach house with her classmates in the large breakout room.
Design Your NYU Shanghai’s goal is to help provide the campus’s newest students with a strong “designer’s mindset” and framework as they approach the challenges and opportunities of their college years. “The traditional learning mode emphasizes a very linear and binary approach: ‘There is one way to do this, there is a correct or incorrect answer,'” says Tsiang. “In some situations that precision approach is important. But in situations where there isn’t a right or wrong, such as navigating your college experience, a designer's mindset can offer students a supplemental way to approach ambiguous, multifaceted situations.”
The course, which is broken down based on the sections and tools of the design thinking process, includes visual thinking, reflection and prototype, ideation & prototype, and reflection and storytelling, and has students actively reflecting and sharing with each other about what has led them to NYU Shanghai and how they hope their next few years look. Some of these activities are typical orientation activities for NYU Shanghai students, but due to COVID and different start dates in New York and Abu Dhabi, the students are getting to do it now, all together in class.
The class logo, designed by Samantha Cui ‘21 represents that no matter where the students are physically, NYU Shanghai is with them.
This week’s class, taking advantage of the opportunity to have all 500+ members of the class of 2025 together at once, was a chance for the class to watch the Reality Show together. After the show, Tsiang moderated a panel discussion with the Reality Show cast, asking them to reflect on some of the topics that they addressed in the show.
“Think of a personal challenge you experienced. What happened and what did you do for support? What did you learn about yourself through this experience?” she asked the panelists, before turning it back to the class of 2025, and sending them into breakout rooms to discuss amongst themselves.
The course appears to be slowly bringing unity to a class that is sprinkled across 40 countries. “I love how the class is more of a bonding time with myself and my peers rather than just lectures and homework,” says Khaliun Enkhbold ’25, who, for the first few weeks of class, has Zoomed in from her home in Mongolia, but is currently quarantining in Beijing, and will soon join her classmates in Shanghai. “The class makes me once again realize that I am indeed in the Class of 2025 and there are others who are just like me which helps me feel more comfortable and alive.”