Credential As You Go Organization Case Study

Certificate and Minor in Design Thinking

Colorado State University, Fort Collins

Credential Title

Certificate and Minor in Design Thinking

Credential Level


Academic Program

Nancy Richardson Design Center

Stage of Development


Credit/Non-credit # of credits (if credit bearing)

12 credits

Incremental Credentialing Framework Approaches

  • Learn As You Go
  • Specialize As You Go
  • Stack As You Go
  • Retro As You Go

Top Competencies/Learning Outcomes

  • Critically explore diverse cultural, disciplinary, and global perspectives to address real-world, complex, and ill defined (i.e., ‘wicked’) problems
  • Develop design thinking skills to respond creatively and resiliently in unanticipated and challenging situations and critically evaluate potential solutions and understand the impact of these responses.
  • Collaborate with team members holding different disciplinary perspectives and values, and communicate complex ideas to diverse audiences through oral, written, and graphic strategies (including new media like VR).

Credential Components

Selection of credit courses

Why the Credential was Developed

  • Companies from diverse industries are increasingly adopting design-thinking, suggesting significant employment growth potential for students with a design-thinking certificate.
  • At the 2016 World Economic Forum, they ranked design thinking’s key tenets (problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity) as the top three most sought-after skills by employers. Now more than ever, those entering the workforce need the skills and mindsets taught by design thinking to become the forward-thinking, responsive, and resilient employee that the post-pandemic workplace requires.
  • Community and partnership building with other academic units and industry affiliates are a priority and continually being developed. This provides students with a strong, coordinated network combining academics, student supports, and industry experiences to ensure they have quality design thinking opportunities.

How the Credential was Developed

  • Sixty-two visioning meetings were conducted with over 90 faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community partners from diverse perspectives (including design fields and non-design disciplines, such as business, education, psychology, and others), to shape the program and goals, as well as the objectives and class topics for the undergraduate interdisciplinary certificate in Design Thinking.
  • The certificate pathway integrates courses that satisfy all university core curriculum requirements and are part of Colorado GTPathways, ensuring transferability to other Colorado colleges and universities.
  • Quality and trust are ensured through partnerships with leading academic and industry professionals, and feedback from students.
  • Developed industry mentorships and community service-learning activities, which frequently results in professional internships and job offers to our students.
  • Students receive a transcripted undergraduate certificate from CSU.
  • We are also working with industry leaders to explore the possibility of providing stand-alone credentials, such as for our high school dual-enrollment students.

The Targeted Learners

  • Targeted learners include undergraduate students from both design and non-design fields, who are interested in developing design thinking strategies.
  • Learners represent all eight colleges within the university and over 60 different majors and concentrations.
  • In addition, learners include dual enrollment high school students and Lifelong Learners (students aged 55+).
  • Staff provide academic support and advising to students, helping them to fit the certificate into their lives and goals, not the other way around.

Lessons Learned

  • We have come to understand that collaboration, relationship-building, and creating applicable learning opportunities are key to a quality experience for our learners and helps us be successful and unique as an interdisciplinary hub on campus.
  • There are many challenges associated with delivering a highly interdisciplinary and entrepreneurially-funded program, included systemic barriers related to financial systems, faculty tenure and promotion processes, human resources practices, and curriculum approval procedures. Due to these challenges, prioritizing building relationships with other departments and colleges was imperative.

Improving Education and Employment Outcomes

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