This Strategic Designer Is Taking A Zen Approach To Higher Education

Presented By
The New School


Why do we pit the arts and humanities against science, tech, engineering, and math? Why do we label one side the empathetic dreamers and the other side the sensible realists? It’s a silly battle built on differing value sets and belief systems, and in most cases, the answer is to avoid the false dichotomy altogether and instead blend the best aspects of all disciplines. In fact, for a new wave of students that’s the very future of higher education.

Anne Stake enrolled in The New School in New York City with both a bachelor’s in human biology and a master’s of public policy. She had studied statistics, economics, physics, and biochemistry in a traditional classroom. She had led design research in Rwanda to define community-based health insurance reform; helped establish guidelines for trauma management in India; and managed public-private partnerships and technology transfer programs between Mexico, India, and Brazil. But, despite a venerated record of successes in designing and launching businesses, policies, and partnerships in multiple emerging markets, her education wasn’t completely fleshed out.

She longed for time to explore. Time to let her creativity flourish. She wanted to enter a flexible program that would allow her to investigate design thinking and receive a Master of Science in strategic design.

Parsons’ School of Design at The New School is one of the few colleges that fulfilled Stake’s criteria. She was attracted to the world class faculty as well as the academic rigor, but it was the practice-oriented, hands-on education that really addressed her needs. She required space to be creative and unconstrained in one of the design world’s biggest hubs.

“The Strategic Design and Management program is by-design flexible,” Stake says. “It allows you to chart your own course.”

As a class project, for instance, the strategic designer is writing a book with a fellow student who owns a design firm in South Africa and works in emerging economies. It’s not a component of the standard curriculum, but her professors are fully supportive of the pair and their project. There is no doubt Stake could have written a book independent of the classroom, but she greatly values the mentorship of the professors at her university, as well as the option of having Parsons as a publisher or production partner in the endeavor.

Stake isn’t being driven by a single outside goal to make cross-curricular connections or engage in fresh new projects. Instead, she’s taking Zen approach (her brother is a Buddhist monk) and living in the moment.

“I pick projects that allow me to meet with people that I want to meet with, whether they’re thought leaders or other practitioners,” Stake says. “It’s a nice way of engaging in something for the sake of it, rather than being entirely goal-directed, or outcome-directed.”

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