Engagement Lab to offer new graduate program

by Laura King / Beacon Staff • January 13, 2016

Eric Gordon, founding director of the Engagement Lab.
Eric Gordon, founding director of the Engagement Lab.

Next fall, the Engagement Lab will welcome 10 students and begin its graduate program in Civic Media, Art & Practice, the first full academic degree offered by the lab.

Announced by the college on Dec. 8, the 12-month program will draw from the lab’s current civic engagement research and design practices.

“CMAP is a curricular extension of the work we do here already,” Eric Gordon, founding director of the lab, said.

The Engagement Lab collaborates with local, national, and global partners to identify social issues and create solutions, according to Gordon. It has produced civic media games and mobile applications with groups like the American Red Cross, the City of Boston, and small community organizations.

The graduate program will combine an academic curriculum with working with such partners. Along with a yearlong seminar course on civic media, students will take design studios where they will learn the research methods of the lab. They can take electives offered across campus in departments like visual and media arts, marketing, and writing, literature, and publishing.

“If someone comes in and their interest is in game design, they can take an elective on that,” Gordon said. “They can move around and address their own interests.”

Students will also have the opportunity to take courses at over 20 local universities—including Harvard University, Tufts University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology—through the Boston Civic Media Consortium.

“Coming to the CMAP program is, in a way, being immersed into a larger ecosystem of civic media design and study in the Boston area,” Gordon said.

Each student will enter the program having identified a social problem they’re interested in, and will develop a solution with an external organization, according to Gordon. This project is designed to pair with their master’s thesis.

Mariko Davidson, managing director of the Engagement Lab, said that the benefits of this program will go both ways. She said she is looking forward to having student work and ideas built upon in the lab environment.

“At the broadest level, it will expand our research capacity,” Davidson said.

The entering class will be a curated group of people defined by “sheer brilliance,” according to Gordon. They will be looking for students with established careers in technology, art, or activism, and also those who have just completed undergraduate programs. He said fellowships will be offered to select students.

“We’re really hoping to get a wide range and diverse group,” Gordon said.

Gordon said that the college hopes to expand the program to a class size of 24 by fall 2018. Although the lab is currently involved with courses in the digital media and culture minor, Gordon said that he doesn’t see any expansions in undergraduate offerings in the foreseeable future.