MASD’s design-centered curriculum

Student Spotlight

Jennifer O’Connell, a current student in the MA in Sustainable Design program, took some time out of her schedule to answer some FAQs about being a student in this program.

Where are you currently living?

Los Angeles, CA

What attracted you to MCAD’s MA in Sustainable Design program?

MASD’s design-centered curriculum stood out among the other sustainability grad programs. Attending a prospective student webinar sealed the deal for me. I heard my story in Denise Deluca’s (former director) and an alum’s (Ellie Cotlar) shares. Both Denise and Ellie talked with me afterward to answer my questions. Their genuine enthusiasm for the program spoke to me and inspired me to apply.

Has anything you’ve learned in the program changed your way of thinking?

While I had good intentions, my sustainability mindset was hyper-focused on singular issues before the program. The program’s core approach is systems thinking. Sustainability problems do not exist in isolation within our interconnected and constantly changing ecosystems. To sum it up: I stopped fretting about using the occasional plastic straw and started looking upstream for the solution.

What has surprised you about the program?

The program cohort feels very intimate. Within the 100% virtual environment, classmates and the faculty are very accessible. I found that most students and instructors are happy to talk about class projects, climate change, and everything in between! These connections strengthen why we’re all pursuing this shared professional path.

What are you currently doing or working on?

At a MASD Town Hall event last year (2021), I met alum Olivia Pederson, founder of Sustaio. I joined the startup last August and am now the Content Manager, managing the platform’s content and user experience.

What sustainability or sustainable design projects are you looking forward to working on?

I’m currently in two hands-on design courses: Collaborative Product Design and Packaging Sustainability. Both classes allow me to take an existing physical product/packaging and completely redesign it to be more sustainable. How cool is that?!

How have you applied what you learned in the program?

I directly apply design-thinking and behavioral change research in my role to improve consumer awareness of climate impact. My job is to make it easy for a user (to the web platform) to understand the what/why/how of individual climate action. At work or outside of my role, I’m always looking for opportunities to evolve my visual communication skill-set.

What have you learned in the program that you wish everyone would learn?

I wish everyone would advocate for the circular economy and regenerative systems. Plus, each person can be a good steward of the earth, its ecosystems, and each other.

What recommendations do you have for people considering a career in sustainable design?

Gaining a fundamental knowledge of sustainability will help guide you to where the biggest impact occurs in any system. From there, find the people, companies, and solutions that you believe in and join forces to make the change you want to see in the world happen.

If you had a magic wand and could completely solve one sustainability problem, what would it be?

Slow down [economic] growth!


Dawn Keene / Director

Dawn Keene is the president of Studio Change, a company offering sustainability consulting services. Prior to Studio Change, Dawn has served as president of Keene Design, Inc. an award-winning Atlanta-based firm specializing in graphic design for over a decade.

Her previous affiliations have included High-Performance Healthy Schools Committee for USGBC Atlanta (United States Green Building Council), serving as the membership chair and on the sustainability committee for AIGA Atlanta (American Institute of Graphic Arts AIGA.) Her work has been featured on Sustainable Brands and published in Graphic Design U.S.A. In addition, she has participated in panel discussions on various topics such as environmental design and community outreach.

Her life mission is to empower communities and individuals to take positive action towards building a more sustainable future through education and community outreach. She holds a BFA in Graphic Design from Georgia State University and graduated from MCAD’s MA in Sustainable Design program in 2013.