Faculty and Staff

Designing Futurists

January 13, 2023
woman with dark hair and glasses

We are one of just 30 design factories in the world working to find what’s needed for the workforce of tomorrow.

For Seidenberg professor Andreea Cotoranu, Pace feels like home (for her even more than for most). “I have a long history here. I started as an undergrad, earned my degree in information systems, got a position with the University, went on to get my master’s, and have moved between different roles in the Seidenberg School of CSIS. Now, I work in the same department that I graduated from.”

Cotoranu came to Pace from Romania as an international student and volleyball player. At the time, her priority was making sure she could go to a college where she could study as well as continue to play as an athlete. Once she arrived at Pace, she started to focus on her academic and career interests—and a love of IT and cybersecurity took hold. “My interest in cybersecurity started in grad school. I had great professors and hands-on lab work. It was exciting. I’ve always been interested in science and technology, and I saw opportunities to develop the programs here. I’ve used my own experience to build out programs for other students.”

“We use design thinking, systems thinking, and futures thinking. They are designing solutions for 2030.”

Since those days, Cotoranu has had a big presence in Seidenberg. She’s served as assistant dean for academic innovation, is the principal investigator on an NSA-funded grant aiming to expand cybersecurity education at the high school level, and she’s the director of the New York City Design Factory at Pace—an innovation hub for students, faculty, international collaborators, and industry partners, one that designs solutions to modern challenges and promotes innovative teaching and learning. “In the Design Factory, we bring the process and the context for learning to the forefront. It’s interdisciplinary and involves undergrads, grads, and international students. We are one of just 30 design factories in the world working to find what’s needed for the workforce of tomorrow.”

Pace’s NYC Design Factory is part of the Design Factory Global Network, a consortium of innovation hubs at universities around the world. Through this network, student teams work together on global issues. “Our staple programs are the field studies with international collaborators. We travel to their institutions, and they come to us. Right now, our host is CERN in Switzerland, and our focus is on health.”

Students participating in the field study conducted research on health and healthcare in New York and in the US, and then went to CERN to trade information with the CERN students who were studying health and healthcare in Switzerland. “Connecting with other teams is an important part of the process—we call it a two-week intensive. And it is really intense: 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. every day, including Saturdays. Pace students pitch ideas to the CERN students, get feedback, go back and refine—and vice versa.”

Students are also pushed to think beyond the current moment and design for problems of the future. “We use design thinking, systems thinking, and futures thinking. They are designing solutions for 2030.” Pace students have developed, pitched, and prototyped ideas like noise-pollution-absorbing drones and cooling systems that can preserve fresh food supplies at a massive scale. “Forcing students to think about what’s needed in the future creates a safe space for them to experiment, to explore, and to let their imaginations go wild.” And for Cotoranu, that’s the best part—seeing her students learn and grow. “It’s the typical educator answer, but having the opportunity to have an impact on a student’s life, to help them grow, and to build them up, it is genuinely the most fulfilling.”

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