Sara Beckman, Senior Lecturer

Open (1) Teaming with Diversity for Innovative Output

Open. Apprentices needed for the fall semester. Enter your application on the web beginning August 15th. The deadline to apply is Monday, August 27th at 9 AM.

Solutions to today’s increasingly “wicked problems” demand teaming across disciplinary boundaries. Teaming in organizations is the “engine of organizational learning…a way of working that brings people together to generate new ideas, find answers and solve problems. But people have to learn to team; it doesn’t come naturally.”

Good teaming skills allow teams to leverage diversity to better frame and solve problems, and ultimately to better innovate. Diverse teams have been shown to either significantly under- or out-perform more homogeneous teams. They underperform when they are either blind to the diversity present, or treat the diversity with stereotypes. They outperform when they have a learning perspective that allows them to leverage the multiple bodies of knowledge that become available when they take this perspective.

Over the past 10 years, faculty and staff at UC Berkeley have implemented a curriculum within the College of Engineering and beyond called “Teaming with Diversity.” Our hope is to analyze survey data and project websites collected throughout that timeframe in order to understand first what the effect of teaming education is on student success. We plan to examine how the effects of teaming education manifest differently between disciplines including business, engineering, and the sciences. The hope is that we can use this information to better integrate teaming curricula with thinking frameworks to produce more effective problem solvers.

This work aims to address the following research questions:

• How does team size affect team dynamics over the course of the semester?
• How does teaming effectiveness evolve over the semester?
• How do students develop teaming competencies when on a dedicated team for the length of the semester? How does changing teams every week affect teaming competency development?
• Do students benefit from engaging in multiple team-based classes over the course of their undergraduate career?
• What is the benefit of implementing teaming curricula into classes? Does it improve student teaming outcomes? Does the effect change between students of different majors or classes offered through different programs?
• What is the role of learning style, gender and ethnic diversity on teaming outcomes?


We seek URAP candidates who are comfortable with ambiguity and interested in exploration. We expect to engage in the following activities in the fall:

• Qualitative Data Analysis: Analysis of open-ended responses to mid-semester and end-of-semester peer evaluation surveys
• Literature Review: We have already begun a comprehensive review of literature around the power of diverse teams. This work would consist of updating the literature review and collecting / summarizing new sources specifically related to what has been published about teaming in engineering school curricula.
• Tool Development: Based on learning from the data analysis and literature review, we want to build a toolkit for students to use in learning about teaming.


Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Rachel Dzombak (with Sara Beckman), Post-Doc

Qualifications: All URAPs will be expected to be highly motivated, organized, and self-directed. Experience with qualitative research analysis. Experience with graphic design. Comfort with ambiguity, curiosity to explore, interest in learning about teaming and the effects of diversity.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Closed (2) Analyzing Student Perceptions of Design Thinking in Business

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2018 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2018.

To date, many mindset development frameworks have been popularized and used throughout higher education including critical thinking, design (creative) thinking, systems thinking, entrepreneurial (e.g., lean startup) and scientific method. Critical thinking often focuses on distinguishing facts, inferences and assumptions, and on building sound arguments. Design thinking (creative problem solving) leverages creative processes in order to unlock ideas and develop solutions to problems faced by users or customers. Systems thinking maps the context in which problem exists encouraging one to outline all of the factors that are influencing a problem in the present as well as the variables that are changing over time. Mapping the system dynamics helps one to discern where in the system they should intervene in order to create the change (or fix the problem) that they desire. Scientific method revolves around hypothesis-driven exploration (a process that finds interesting parallels in hypothesis-driven entrepreneurship). Entrepreneurial mindset development is growing in prevalence at universities, particularly within engineering. Entrepreneurs view problems as opportunities that they can create around, thus potentially leading to the creation of real-world impact over time.

All of these models are capture how we learn. They all entail observing and noticing phenomena in the concrete world. They entail making sense of those observations, thus framing and reframing a situation or problem to be solved. They generally ask for some creative effort to imagine and design alternative solutions or alternative future possibilities. And, most require revisiting the concrete world to test those ideas. In short, they all provide different mindsets, skillsets and toolsets for learning. With the exception of the scientific method, which is deeply embedded throughout the curriculum, at universities today many of the programs and courses that aim to develop such mindsets are elective, or seen as extracurricular. Even critical thinking, which many schools hold up as the cornerstone of learning, is rarely called out in an explicit way such that students can describe it clearly. For the 21st century learner, these shouldn’t be niche skillsets – every student must learn how to go about approaching and tackling complex challenges.

In our research, we aim to more deeply understand each of these types of “thinking” or problem framing and solving approaches and document them, building on learning models.

The core research questions we aim to answer through this research include:
• How might we capture the variety of problem framing and solving approaches that are used today, and help students learn which ones to apply in which situations?
• How do students of different disciplines/backgrounds view the problem framing and solving approaches, their value, and applicability to work?
• How does learning style influence students’ success in project-based, problem-focused design and innovation course contexts?


We seek URAP candidates who are comfortable with ambiguity and interested in exploration. We expect to engage in the following activities in the fall:

• Qualitative Data Analysis: Analysis of open-ended responses to discussion questions as well as blog post. We are particularly interested in how perceptions vary between students of different disciplines.
• Literature Review: We are also interested in having URAPs help to collect literature on mindset development and the use of process curricula including systems thinking and design thinking.


Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Rachel Dzombak (with Sara Beckman), Post-Doc

Qualifications: All URAPs will be expected to be highly motivated, and self-directed. This project will require a high degree of organization. Experience with qualitative research analysis and conducting literature reviews would be great. Comfort with ambiguity, curiosity to explore, interest in learning about teaming and the effects of diversity.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Closed (3) Systems Mapping: Modeling Execution Systems

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2018 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2018.

We live in a messy world today that requires understanding of systems dynamics. Our recent research has leveraged systems modeling using software such as kumu.io to capture the complex dynamics of a variety of systems.

In particular, we've been examining the dynamics that surround excelling at execution...getting the everyday work done that needs to be done to, for example, run the Cirque du Soliel, serve chicken sandwiches at Chick-fil-a, or fill orders at Amazon.

We've completed a partial literature review and conducted some interviews with people in these companies and others. We would like to take this research further, creating a publishable paper by the end of the Fall semester.

Our objectives for this semester:
Build the systems model that captures excellence in execution
Complete a literature review
Conduct more interviews with people involved in execution
Draft a paper for publication


This is a great chance to learn about system modeling, including kumu.io or other systems modeling software. It is also a great chance to learn about the other side of design and innovation -- getting the job done!

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Rachel Dzombak (with Sara Beckman), Post-Doc

Qualifications: All URAPs will be expected to be highly motivated, and self-directed. This project will require a high degree of organization. Experience with qualitative research analysis and conducting literature reviews would be great. Comfort with ambiguity, curiosity to explore, interest in learning about teaming and the effects of diversity.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Closed (4) Nobel Prize Winners and Creativity

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2018 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2018.

This is a joint project with Autodesk (and its Innovation Genome project) and the Nobel Foundation. Autodesk has for the past few years been studying the 1000 greatest innovations in history to uncover common principles that lead to innovation. In this project, we will examine Nobel prize winners, particularly those from UC Berkeley, Stanford University and UCSF to understand how they came to the findings that led to winning the Nobel Prize. We seek to find commonalities and differences among them, and thus to inform future generations of innovation work.

Very little work has been done to date to understand how Nobel Prize winners think, and what creative processes they use to generate their ideas. We will start our work with background research on Nobel Prize winners, and then plan to conduct interviews with winners in the local area. We will take the data we collect from these primary and secondary sources, and will look for patterns of behaviors and thinking approaches that are shared across the prize winners.

If you would like an opportunity to get to know some Nobel prize winners well, this is the project for you!

This is early-stage research, and so we seek URAP candidates who are comfortable with ambiguity and interested in exploration. We expect to engage in the following activities in the fall:

1)Literature review: We have already begun to review the small amount of literature on Nobel prize winners and creativity. We will complete that review this fall.
2) Nobel Prize winner background research: Before we conduct interviews in person with the prize winners, we will do some background research to learn about them -- their backgrounds, what they did to earn the prize, who they worked with, etc. We expect that students will be able to work in teams to do this work.
3) Interview Nobel Prize winners: Finally, we will create interview guides and deploy teams of URAPs to conduct interviews with the Nobel Prize winners, allowing us to dig more deeply into how they think, what they think allowed them to win.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Sara Beckman

Qualifications: All URAPs will be expected to be highly motivated, organized, and self-directed. Experience conducting ethnographic interviews and doing observation work would be great. Comfort with ambiguity, curiosity to explore, interest in learning about the lives and work of others.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated