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A Decade of Difference: Student Turned Professor Watches ID Evolve

By Thaddeus Mast

July 24, 2023

Jaime Rivera and Tom MacTavish
Jaime Rivera finished a Master of Design in 2012 before returning to ID as an adjunct professor, all while earning a PhD.

Students from across the globe call the Institute of Design home, but few graduates go on to teach at their alma mater while spending years researching and earning a Doctor of Philosophy in Design.

Institute of Design Adjunct Professor Jaime Rivera (MDes 2012, PhD 2023) came to ID as a student after finishing an industrial design degree from the University of Los Andes in his home country of Colombia. He became a researcher in the biomedical field but hadn’t connected with the job and wanted something new.

Several years into his career, Rivera’s boss visited Chicago. Impressed with the faculty at ID and knowing it would be a good fit, his boss talked Rivera into getting his master’s degree. A Colombian scholarship let Rivera—who had never even visited the United States before—chase that dream, with the ultimate goal of earning a doctorate in design.

The difference between design—I couldn’t believe it. In Colombia, we were trying to understand the potential of design. When I started my master’s degree [at ID], I was part of it. In Colombia, they had started making the train. Here, we were already on the train. The impact design is having is mindblowing.
—Jaime Rivera

Rivera’s first semester included a workshop introducing the ideas of persuasive design, led by Research Assistant Professor Tom MacTavish. That course led to a decade-long research project and thesis about prototyping a design alongside its development instead of waiting for the final stages of the process. This approach termed provocative prototypes, or “provotypes,” can catch problems as they appear instead of waiting for the end stages. Rivera joined his former professor in publishing a research paper about the subject in 2017, two years after becoming an adjunct professor.

Rivera watched ID evolve over the past decade from the lens of a student and a professor. The shifting climate of American values, and how businesses are reacting to those changes, were a driving force.

“There’s more social awareness and responsibility in the systems we design,” Rivera says. “With the balance of social influence, technology, and ethics, companies are turning back to academia. But ID evolved quickly. A lack of critical thinking is not concerning because the school changed with society.”

After joining the faculty, Rivera reflects on his work as part of the Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) program, a cornerstone of Illinois Institute of Technology studies that bring students together from all disciplines to research, design, and solve real-world problems. The lessons of the semester-long project stuck with Rivera—so much so that he leads workshops for the program.

“There’s something unique about teaching IPRO,” Rivera says. “Working with young adults can help balance yourself, and I can provide value to them. I learn the most from my students.”