Ask Design Institute of San Diego beloved instructor Lily Robinson if she believes that people ever stop learning, and we’ll bet her answer is an enthusiastic “No.” Lily recently received her Doctor of Education in Teaching and Learning from the University of California, San Diego. When she began teaching at DISD in 2004, she already had a Master of Architecture (MArch) from Parsons School of Design, and a Bachelor of Science in Design and Environmental Analysis with an emphasis in Interior Design from Cornell University, under her belt. “I had always known that I wanted to teach at the college level,” she explains. “Many colleges require a Master’s degree in order to teach so I wanted to have credentials which enabled me to teach at the widest variety of venues.”
Because a Master’s degree in the area of specialty is all one needs in order to teach at the college level, what motivated her to go even further with her education? “I felt very comfortable with the subject matter of design, but I was interested in learning more about theories of teaching and best practices in the classroom,” shares Lily. “I also wanted to contribute to the field of design education by conducting and publishing original research.” While researching schools, Lily found that UCSD offered a Doctor of Education in Teaching and Learning through a program designed specifically for working instructors. This seemed like the perfect fit with her teaching schedule at DISD, as all classes were in the evening, meeting twice a week for fourteen quarters.
Lily felt at home being back in a learning environment as a student. However, after a couple of quarters, balancing the academic workload with her personal and professional life became a challenge. “I realized that I appreciated professors who saw my potential yet also understood that school was part of a larger life picture, and who allowed me to learn at my own pace,” Lily reflects. “I was encouraged through this whole process by the staff at DISD and my friends and family. I had a very supportive environment which allowed me to succeed.”Dr. Lily Robinson and her Chair, Paula Levin, getting ready for the ceremony
Lily conducted two research studies over the course of four years. In her first year, she wrote a paper entitled, “Situated Studio: Cultivating Social Responsibility in the Interior Design Studio.” This study described student learning outcomes from an innovative curriculum she personally designed and implemented in 2013.
“Visitor Learning on Guided Tours: An Activity Theory Approach” is the title of her dissertation study. It focuses on adult learning outside of a formal classroom setting. In addition to teaching, Lily is a docent at two local architectural landmarks. She performed a qualitative study in which she observed tours during the summer of 2015 and interviewed visitors to find out what they were learning on the tours. “I found out that just a single tour can have a transformational effect on the tour-goer and that a storytelling approach by the guide helps the visitor create lasting memories,” she explains. “Visitors overwhelmingly reported the value of being there as opposed to learning about the place through photos or video, which underscored my belief that field trips are an essential part of learning about design.”Lily with fellow graduates
She had the opportunity to practice her presentation in front of her colleagues at UCSD, though she was still nervous. One of the students in her Human Factors class here at DISD offered to stay after class the evening before her dissertation defense after Lily mentioned that she was still nervous about presenting. “I am forever grateful for his encouraging attention, which empowered me to feel confident in my presentation abilities,” she remembers. The next day, Lily’s presentation went perfectly and the committee asked questions for an hour and a half. She was then asked to step out of the room while the committee deliberated. It only took about five minutes until she was invited back into the room and greeted with, “Congratulations, Dr. Robinson!”
Now that she’s earned her doctorate and gained a ton of new knowledge and skills, she can’t wait to apply them to her practice here at DISD. Meanwhile, she’s been asked to present her findings at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and to continue to help them improve their tour program. She is ecstatic that she is finally done with school, and is looking forward to working on freelance projects, making art and writing the second edition of her textbook, due out in early 2019. “I think going back to school at any age is a positive thing,” she says. We couldn’t agree more with that sentiment.