Students sit at a table with their laptops discussing a project.

New Carlson Impact Lab Tackles Problem-Solving

Monday, January 9, 2023

Amee McDonald stands at the head of a table with students discussing a project in the Carlson Impact Lab.
Amee McDonald, Managing Director of Carlson Impact Lab


Experiential learning opportunities through the new Carlson School Impact Lab are providing first-year students with an early start on developing their problem-solving skills.

Through case studies, simulations, and live cases, the Lab aims to create comfort with ambiguity. Amee McDonald, the Lab’s managing director, says it challenges students, especially those who may be risk-averse, to think critically.

“One of the main motivations of this is to help students understand that problem-solving is not a linear process,” explains McDonald. “Once they're in the workforce, they're going to face ambiguous problems and need to examine all of the factors at play and consider the diverse ways in which they can address those issues.”

The Carlson Impact Lab launched this Fall 2022 semester as part of the new required undergraduate curriculum. The program entails two courses: Impact Lab Problem Solving, in which first-year students build their foundational skills, and Impact Lab in Action, taken sophomore year or later in which students apply the concepts to projects with real-world clients. 

Four students sit at table with their laptops to discuss a project in the Carlson Impact Lab.
Students discuss a project during a breakout session in the Carlson Impact Lab.

In Problem Solving this semester, one class surveyed students for their opinions of the Hanson Hall student lounge. For many of the Impact Lab students, the responses were unexpected.

“Our group at first talked about incorporating some pieces of entertainment, like TVs, but we found out students really were more focused on having a study space, perhaps with different seating arrangements and lighting changes,” shares John Blair, ‘26 BSB.
McDonald says those types of realizations are what the Lab is trying to achieve through the case studies and simulations.

“When reflecting on assignments, students realized they initially jumped into their own ideas for solutions and missed the other perspectives,” she says. “The goal of the course makes our students ask, ‘How are you identifying a problem? And how are you then potentially limiting the options of solutions based on how you defined it?’”

Taking the class in the first year, students say they’re already finding ways to apply their skills to other projects and everyday life, laying the groundwork for the rest of their academic and professional careers.

“I think it really sets you up to solve future problems that are on a much bigger scale, [by learning] you can just break it down and disaggregate your problem and make sure that you find the correct solution,” reflects Riley Ziolkowski, ‘26 BSB. 

Problem Solving expands to 10 sections in the spring semester. The first Impact Lab in Action courses begin next fall.