The Ukulele story: How to think like an engineer


Creating and Making is one of the 6 core courses of the Undergraduate Academic program at Fulbright University Vietnam. The course’s purpose is to develop for Fulbright students an understanding of design thinking and the design process.

Staying true to the Co-Design Year spirit, Co-Design Year students worked closely with faculty members to design and test out this module before launching it for the upcoming academic year 2019-2020. One of the most unique aspects of this course is that the students have to design an actual product: something that can help an 8-year-old play and learn at the same time. The result of the course is not determined by the professors but the real product-users.

Below is a reflection from Thuy Dung’s group, whose product was a Ukulele.

We thought this class would be a piece of cake, with clear and linear steps: from conceptualization, to product creation, and lastly, presentation.

We found out that life is not a dream.

We started brainstorming ideas for the product using the Generative Thinking Tools that Dr. Sebastian Dziallas taught us in class. From a wide range of possibilities, we narrowed it down to music as the main subject matter.

Stemming from the insight that our target audience, 8-year-old children, prefers hands-on activities, we thought of designing a Ukulele toolkit. The kit includes a package of different pieces to assemble a Ukulele, completed with a how-to guidebook and basic music theories.

We had to, first, create a prototype of the Ukulele using paperboard. We then contacted a carpentry shop to discuss on our blueprint and costs. Fortunately, we met some wonderful mentors; without their help, we would not be able to finish this product.

The following days were full of hard work; but among the sweats and tears, we had tons of joy and laughters. We spent all day in the carpentry shop, from dusk until dawn. When we got back to the dorm, we still had to do homework.

Time went by in a blink of an eye. The day when we had to present our product to the class finally came; and I still remember how long of a day it was.

We experienced a structural problem with the Ukulele and it took us two hours to fix. For this, we missed most of our appointment with Dr. Dziallas, our product owner. After our two-minute meeting with Dr. Dziallas, we reworked the guidebook, printed it out, and finished the video to report on our process.

We were ready for the read-out at last.

After this class, I came to appreciate every single product I use in my daily life, especially handicraft products. I also became more comfortable working under pressure and managing my time more wisely.

I am thankful for having such a wonderful “colleague” like Nguyen Vu Nhu Quynh, a down-to-earth professor like Dr. Sebastian Dziallas, and dedicated mentors like the carpenters we met in the shop; they turned this class into such an enjoyable journey.

This course taught me invaluable skills and knowledge; but most importantly, it taught me how to think like a real engineer.

Nguyen Thi Thuy Dung
Student of Co-Design Year

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Khoảnh khắc bạn đối mặt với nỗi sợ và dũng cảm hành động, đó là lúc bạn đã khai phóng bản thân. Đã có nhiều đêm bạn mất ngủ, đã có nhiều phút giây bạn nản chí. Nhưng, bạn đã không bỏ cuộc. Các bạn đã luôn kiên cường vượt qua những thử thách, những khó khăn trên chặng đường bốn năm vừa qua. Fulbright tự hào về các bạn. Hẹn gặp các bạn tại Commencement Day 8/6/2024, ngày chúng tôi tự hào giới thiệu với thế giới: Khóa 2024 – Class of the Fearless của Đại học Fulbright Việt Nam.

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