Jeanne Olson Speaks on Creative Process for Chicago Ideas Week

Jeanne Olson Speaks on Creative Process for Chicago Ideas Week

By Marilyn Sherman

Jeanne Marie Olson (MS96), a faculty member in the Master of Science in Learning and Organizational Change program at the School of Education and Social Policy, will join with eminent professionals to discuss “Creative Process” as part of Chicago Ideas Week on October 15. Olson will speak about her work as a faculty adviser for Design for America, a network of student-led studios creating social impact through design.

Olson joins a panel of creative professionals including actress Joan Cusack, theatre director Anna Shapiro, musician Matt Nathanson and artist Jason Salavon. These artists from diverse disciplines provide their insight into the ways they create new work and ideas.

Their presentation is from 10 to 11:45 a.m. on October 15 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier, 800 East Grand Avenue in Chicago. Tickets, which cost $15, may be purchased through the Chicago Ideas Week website at

Olson also recently published an article about the innovations of Design for America in Core77 entitled "Design for America: Co-Creating with Tomorrow's Designers with Jeanne Marie Olson."

Olson describes her work as “radically interdisciplinary” since she works at intersections, as of consulting and improvisation, design and organizational strategy, and learning and technology. In addition to teaching in the MSLOC program, she also teaches human-centered design at Northwestern’s Segal Design Institute.

Design for America is a new and rapidly growing organization founded at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering that inspires students to use design to create local and social impact in extracurricular settings. Founded in 2008 by Elizabeth Gerber, an assistant professor in McCormick School of Engineering, the Segal Design Institute and SESP, it has harnessed the energy of more than 200 Northwestern students in 20 majors to tackle local design challenges in education, health, energy, transportation and the environment, and the organization now has chapters at eight schools. As a faculty adviser since 2009, Olson has helped to shape the organizational goals, learning and development strategies, and operational principles of the organization along with Gerber, other advisers, staff and the students themselves.

“A decentralized community of practice like Design for America, which involves many stakeholders — students, faculty, community organizations, professionals — and which has been expanding to other universities, is like a fast-moving, rapidly evolving organism,” explains Olson. “Yet each generation of students working on these open-ended, complex projects has something to learn from the generation of students that preceded them, or from other students at other university chapters working on similar problems.”

“The principles that the students use for working with each other and their clients — for sharing information, decision-making, coaching each other — are dependent upon the stories that they tell one another on the fly. These shared beliefs affect their actions as a design community and are critical to the functioning of the group.”


Read more about Jeanne Marie Olson’s work with Design for America at Northwestern University.

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