McDaniel’s 'My Design' Jan Term course encourages critical and creative thinking

Working in teams, 58 McDaniel College students solved seven puzzles Wednesday during an escape room scenario. The team-building activity was part of the school’s Jan Term “My Design” class, which explores the liberal arts and how those skills can be applied in the real world.

“Every time I found a clue, I felt like I found myself,” said freshman Emem Akpan. “I feel as though this program leads to the realm of self-actualization and transcendence.”


According to Stephanie Madsen, McDaniel’s associate dean for sophomore students, Jan Term is a chance for students to dive into a subject with a little more focus. Historically, the three-week term has been something that juniors and seniors have taken but now the college is encouraging underclassmen to enroll.

“The purpose of this class is to help students consider where they came from, where they’d like to go and how McDaniel’s liberal arts environment can help them get there,” Madsen said.

Barbara Swartz, assistant professor of education, described the escape room as “a good team-building and problem-solving activity. It also helps the students build coping mechanisms.”

Freshman Rabie Abdul Salam said she usually takes control of a group but “for this activity I let my teammates do their own thing.”

She said, “I learned to accept that I don’t know the answers all the time and other people might know something that I don’t.”

Freshman Hikeem Holland said he learned to respect other opinions.

“It helped me understand that sometimes it helps to have different perspectives,” Holland said.

Freshman Hannah Zajac said the activity got her out of her comfort zone.

“I found strengths in myself I wasn’t looking for,” she said. “I was acting as a leader and I’m not usually comfortable doing that.”

Swartz said the course uses the book “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.

“We want the students to take a reflective dive,” Swartz said. “We provide them with the tools to analyze those feelings, ideas and pressures and then help them move forward. We want them to build teams, network, and understand and use the resources that McDaniel and Westminster have to offer.”

Freshman Matt Pelletier said he took the course because he hoped it would help him figure out his major.

“It’s less about finding your major and more about figuring out what you want for the future — like what makes you happy and why you’re here,” Pelletier said.

Sophomore Zuri Haley-Robbins took the course to “find some direction.”


“Instead of making it clear, it’s taught me that it’s OK that the path’s not clear,” Haley-Robbins said. “I really do appreciate this program. It’s teaching me a lot about myself.”