Future of Work Co-op 2.0 pilot opens doors for liberal arts majors

Innovation course leads UC student to first-ever strategy internship

On any given workday, Christine Tweddell finds herself nose-deep in research in the spacious, clean-lined downtown offices of the architectural firm BHDP.

As a 2019 spring semester co-op from the University of Cincinnati, Tweddell enjoys the opportunity to do every day one of the things she loves best — helping to design spaces that work for the people working in them.

“When I design things, I think about people first,” Tweddell says. “I try to really understand that each group of people is completely unique, and has different needs, and so many factors go into that.”

A double-major in psychology and fine arts, the fourth-year student is a bit of a pioneer. Tweddell’s rare combination of interests, experience and backgrounds led to her assignment as the first UC co-op to join the BHDP strategy team.

It also makes her the first co-op with a liberal arts background in a firm that traditionally hires up to 24 students exclusively from graphic arts, architecture and interior design backgrounds each year.

Since 1906, UC has had a rich history of providing students with experiential learning opportunities through cooperative education, or co-op. U.S. News and World Report ranks UC's program among the top 20 in the country. As the university pivots to the future, with its new strategic direction called Next Lives Here, Co-op 2.0 seeks out new pathways to experiential learning for students through innovative partnerships with companies seeking to meet the needs of a fast-evolving global marketplace.

Innovation inside and outside the classroom

UC student Christine Tweddell at her co-op at BHDP.

UC psychology-fine arts double major and co-op student Christine Tweddell. Credit: UC/Joseph Fuqua II

Tweddell came to her co-op opportunity through the honors seminar Inquiry to Innovation: The Future of Work, a transdisciplinary course offered to students from all colleges at UC. Sponsored in part by BHDP, the course challenges students to use new ways of thinking to solve practical problems using skill sets outside their traditional disciplines.

This combination of experience brought Tweddell and her abilities to the attention of Drew Suszko, BHDP architect and lead strategist. “In our line of work, there tend to be people who are really good at asking questions, or seeking the ‘why’, and others who are really good at answering questions, or delivering the ‘how’,” he says. “It’s really hard to find people who are really good at both.

“So, imagine our surprise when a double-major in psychology, or the why, and fine arts, or the how, enrolled in a class we sponsor! Christine has a deep interest in people, and she believes that design matters. It sounds common, but it’s actually more rare than you would think.”

Inclusive approach

Launched six years ago as part of the UC Forward program, the seminar "Inquiry to Innovation: The Future of Work" was created to give students experience in forecasting the future of the workplace by exploring how societal trends and technological innovation intersect. Classes are held at both BHDP and at UC’s 1819 Innovation Hub and co-taught by UC faculty and members of the BHDP leadership team.

But the course takes students beyond envisioning actual working spaces, says Aaron Bradley, assistant professor-educator in the Department of Experience-Based Learning and Career Education, and Tweddell’s co-op advisor. The studio-type course offers students the opportunity to study in an environment of inclusion, with majors from design, sociology, engineering and fine arts. Curiosity and transdisciplinary thinking are key requirements for the cohorts, Bradley says.

“The assumption a lot of people make is that, 'Oh, this must be about designing the future office,'” he says. “Because they’re an architecture firm, BHDP probably wants [students] to tell them how to make the next open office. What we actually spend a lot of time in class doing is helping students learn to reframe that when we talk about the future of work, we didn’t say ‘the future office.'

"We’re talking literally about the scope of what does it even mean to work? And as humans who work, what unites us and…what human behaviors and habits are changing that are going to impact the future of work?”

Tweddell’s dual passion for psychology and fine arts, combined with her innate curiosity and love of research, made her a perfect fit for the class, Bradley says.

As her advisor and teacher, he adds, “I just kind of knew. She was curious and asked good questions. She had that psychology major and background that led her to research things in a way that was different from how you would have someone in DAAP usually research things, with more of a human element to it, so I tried to recruit her for the class.”

Art that lives outside gallery walls

For Tweddell, the intersection of art, design and psychology is a completely natural place to be. From a young age, the West Chester native found self-expression through fine art in media that included drawing, painting and sculpture. Family illness having heightened her empathic nature, she decided to pursue psychology as a major in UC's McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.

From there, experiential learning opportunities led her to a stint at ArtWorks’ Hero Design Company, which creates custom superhero capes for children facing emotional, physical or medical hardships.

The experience moved her. At that point, Tweddell wasn’t interested in pursuing fine art because, “art always felt separate,” she says. “But seeing the impact of these programs, that were designed to make art with people, I realized there was a way that art could not only generate change, but there was a way for art to connect people and bring them closer together. And it’s all about being willing to see art as something that lives outside gallery walls.”

A self-described ‘research geek,’ Tweddell has embraced the opportunities that the BHDP co-op has afforded her. Spending her workdays at their downtown offices, researching workspace strategy and design, she has created a compendium of reference material and high-level mind maps that give the broader team a library of industry-leading information that helps support their strategic design decisions.

Making an impact on the future

UC co-op student Christine Tweddell at work at BHDP.

UC student Christine Tweddell breaks ground as a liberal arts co-op at architectural firm BHDP. Credit: UC/Joseph Fuqua II

While most BHDP co-ops concentrate their day-to-day work on projects grounded in traditional disciplines, Tweddell’s Co-op 2.0 position gives the firm a new set of skills from which to draw.

“Christine has transitioned further upstream in our design process than a typical DAAP co-op, working to research and identify issues that will impact the formulation of future design ideas," Suszko says. "Her work will be applied to ensuring those ideas are founded in sound logic and directed toward real human needs.”

Moving forward, Suszko says, doors may be opened at BHDP for more liberal arts majors to bring diverse disciplines and creative ideas to the table. In fact, a UC communications major is being considered for a marketing internship next semester.

“We are committed to hiring people who are creative, curious, collaborative, driven, bold and passionate. As a growing company there are opportunities outside the traditional…tracks,” he says. “We believe that augmenting those disciplines with creative people from other fields means more ideas make it to the table. And in design, being open to ideas and people who bring them to the table is a must.”