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HCDE Alternative Spring Break

April 28, 2017

The 2017 HCDE Alternative Spring Break team

The HCDE Alternative Spring Break team.
Top row: Catie Baker, Valerie Najera, Lydia Davison, Samantha Gil Vargas, Andrew Daivdson.
Second row: Karin Vaughan, Leyla Ibrahim, Michael Fernandes.

In Spring 2017, a team of Human Centered Design & Engineering undergraduate students and educators traveled to the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, Washington, to participate in UW Pipeline Project's Alternative Spring Break, leading a week-long design-thinking workshop for the local middle school students. Senior Lecturer Andrew Davidson organized the HCDE team, with the goal of sparking an interest in engineering within Neah Bay middle school students — introducing them to the ways a user-focused approach to technology can solve a variety of community needs.

Co-led by Davidson and Research Assistant Catie Baker, the HCDE students spent winter quarter developing the curriculum for the spring break workshop, building off of their experiences with the human-centered design process, including ideating, user research, prototyping, and user testing.

Alternative Spring Break team preparing

The HCDE team visited Neah Bay over winter quarter to meet with the local educators and identify age-appropriate projects for the students. After meeting with the community, the HCDE team decided to frame the sixth- and seventh-grade curriculum around environmental citizen science, taking a human-centered approach to apps for crowdsourcing data on local plants and animals to support scientific discovery. The theme of the eighth-grade project would be around applications to foster exploration of the Makah culture, including language, cultural games, and customs.


“ ... centered around things that are important to Makahs: sea life, land animals, community culture. Those are all totally in line with our values ... I just really appreciated that thought. It could have been anything, ‘let's design a car,’ but you...put some thought into what's important to the community.” Neuee Vitalis (sixth- through eighth-grade social studies teacher)


Two weeks before spring break, the HCDE team sent the Neah Bay Middle School teachers lesson plans to get their students thinking about the needs for the citizen science and Makah culture apps within their community. The students conducted interviews with their friends and families, and documented their preliminary user research before the HCDE students arrived.

Alternative Spring Break team on the ferry

HCDE students on the ferry to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

Day 1: Ideation and Design

On day one of the workshop, the HCDE team gave an overview of Human Centered Design & Engineering, and described what studying it at the University of Washington is all about.

Alternative Spring Break students leading class

The HCDE students then led the students through an exercise using the user research interviews they had previously conducted to create a user bio, a sketch, and develop a design goal for their proposed mobile apps.

Sketches from the middle-school students

Day 2: Scenario & Mockups

Day two built on the user bios developed from the day before, and introduced students to creating scenarios and wireframes.

HCDE students presenting

Students sketched their user scenarios and the flow of interaction on their mobile app.

Sketches from 6th grade studentWireframe sketches developed by Neah Bay sixth-grade students

Day 3: Prototype & User Testing

For day three, the HCDE team introduced the younger students to the concept of prototyping. The students then learned how to use Marvel on Samsung tablets to turn their sketches into prototypes.

Students building prototypes

After the students prototyped their sketches in an interaction flow, the HCDE team gave a presentation on the importance of user testing. 

Alternative Spring Break group presenting

Deciding on one task they wanted users to accomplish on their apps, the students tested their task with the HCDE students or with their classroom teachers.

Students testing their prototype

Day 4: Revise & Present

The students started the fourth day of the workshop by revising their prototype in Marvel based on the testing they completed the previous day.

Group of students

To end the class session that day, the middle-school students presented their app concepts to the rest of their class.

Group of students

That evening, all of the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students (85 total), their educators and families, and the HCDE team came together for a dinner at the Makah Community Hall. The HCDE students thanked the community for hosting them for a week, spoke about their motivations for doing the Alternative Spring Break experience, and described what they gained from the week at Neah Bay.


“It was really cool to see them … go through a process of developing their ideas. I really like how they were engaged and learning what was happening. I like the way all of the students from the UW interacted with them, and it was nice seeing their relationships grow in only just a week.” George Patacek (sixth-seventh grade Math, English, PE Teacher)


Day 5: Final Presentations & Assembly

On the last day in Neah Bay, the middle school students took their final presentations to the high school for an open poster session. The students were able to see each other’s work, as well as show off their prototypes to the older students in their community.

Students presenting their work

“Connecting with the students one last time was very special. As the assembly wrapped up and students left to go home, some students stuck around a little longer just to hang out with us,” writes Karin Vaughan in the HCDE ASB process blog.

Students presenting


“I am hoping that that’s going to sort of be the hook for them to want to start developing their own apps and possibly getting into engineering, so they can come back … to the community.” Anton Rascon (sixth-seventh grade math teacher)


Alternative Spring break team

HCDE team with the sixth-grade class

Alternative Spring Break team

HCDE team with the seventh-grade class

Alternative Spring Break students

HCDE team with one of two eighth-grade classes

Alternative Spring Break students

HCDE team with two of two eighth-grade classes



HCDE Senior Lecturer Andrew Davidson was proud to see his HCDE students become the teachers during the Alternative Spring Break process, and is looking forward to expanding the department's involvement in future years. “I was impressed with how well the HCDE students were able to teach the design thinking processes they have been learning about at UW. They were real teachers. Even more importantly, they presented themselves as inspirational mentors to the middle-school students.”

Alternative Spring Break team

See More

View a video of the 2017 HCDE Alternative Spring Break team.