Student Stories

Futures Design Challenge gets first-years thinking big

Students to present creative proposals to help fight climate change

Among the variety of longstanding O-Week traditions, an event new this year will give incoming students a chance to make their mark. Fourcast Lab—a group of faculty, staff and students from across all divisions of the University—has created an innovative, day-long challenge for first-year students. Taking place September 27, the Futures Design Challenge introduces students to the University of Chicago’s unique style of learning, even before they set foot on campus. First-year students are asked to assemble teams and devise an interdisciplinary approach to tackle a global issue. The topic? Climate change.

University of Chicago faculty and staff offer their advice to participants in the Futures Design Challenge.

With support from the College, this interdisciplinary challenge is co-directed Heidi Coleman, senior lecturer in theater and performance studies; Patrick Jagoda, professor in English and cinema and media studies; and Kristen Schilt, associate professor in sociology.

"Climate change is among the most important issues of the 21st century,” said Jagoda, director of the Weston Game Lab. “This problem entails not only the melting icecaps and the rising temperatures, but also the social, political and cultural effects that accompany these environmental changes. Alongside the sciences, we will need the humanities, arts and social sciences to address the inequalities that climate change is exacerbating.”

Jagoda and the other members of Fourcast Lab encourage students to create an approach that allows people from many backgrounds to break through the dread often invoked by discussions of climate change.

Coleman understands these emotions. “Dread or shame often lead to paralysis. We can’t afford to stick our heads in the sand. The Futures Design Challenge galvanizes the incoming class in collaboration with The University’s faculty before students have even entered a classroom.”

Fourcast Lab invites groups of three to five first-year students to join the challenge, encouraging teams to form around a diverse array of interests and backgrounds. In the past three months, many participants have chosen to engage with online challenges to help them consider possibilities surrounding the future and climate change. Upon their arrival on campus, teams will also have the opportunity to receive mentorship from UChicago students and faculty to hone their proposals. On the Friday of Orientation Week, students will present their designs to a panel of faculty and staff judges at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. Up to $5,000 of total prize money will be awarded to five teams who present the most detailed and engaging visions of the future, and all are welcome to attend to view the proceedings.

Jagoda looks forward to the range of possibilities the teams will present. “When I think about the year 2049, I don’t think about the future as a single, definite state that can be predicted,” he said. “I really believe that the actions we take together, as a collective, can alter the shape of possible futures, plural.”

Check out this FAQ video and sign up for the challenge here.