Christensen Family Gift Endows Center for Student Design Education at Duke

September 28, 2021 | Mark Schreiner

Naming honors gift by the family of Clayton Christensen, the management thinker who coined ‘disruptive innovation’

The 'garage lab' portion of the Christensen Family Center for Innovation in the Wilkinson Building at Duke.

The 'garage lab' portion of the Christensen Family Center for Innovation in the Wilkinson Building at Duke.

The Christensen Family Center for Innovation in Duke University’s new Wilkinson Building provides state-of-the-art spaces and educational programs to teach students design skills through hands-on projects connected to the biggest challenges facing humanity and the planet.

The center’s name honors the family of Clayton Christensen in recognition of its $5 million gift to the Pratt School of Engineering. The gift provides perpetual support for the design center, and support for a growing series of immersive design programs focused on solving challenges in health care, climate change and other global issues.

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“Duke Engineering is honored by this visionary gift from the Christensen family, which has such strong ties to Duke and to thought leadership in innovation,” said Jeff Glass, interim dean of the Pratt School of Engineering. “The Christensen Family Center for Innovation is more than a space in which students will make things. It is a place where student teams will learn engineering design skills and gain experience by taking on authentic, real-world challenges and the big, important issues.”

Physically, the Christensen Family Center for Innovation has perhaps the highest visibility of any space in the Wilkinson Building. The center is located on the first floor by the main entrance, and includes:

  • A maker space “garage lab”
  • Prototyping and finishing studio
  • Meeting and office space

A home for design programs

The Christensen Family Center will be home to design programs aimed at areas of critical interest, such as health care, defense and climate change. The first launched was Duke Design Health in fall 2018.

Design Health assembles teams of undergraduate, graduate and professional degree students from across Duke’s schools of engineering, medicine, nursing, arts and sciences, and business.

Through a partnership with the Duke School of Medicine, the teams discover needs and problems in health care through immersion in clinical settings, and then work through a structured process toward a designed solution.

Participants commit five to 10 hours of effort each week during the three-semester program, and receive coaching from experts in medicine, product design, entrepreneurship and engineering.

“The Christensen Family Center is exceptionally well-located,” said Eric S. Richardson, associate professor of the practice of biomedical engineering and Duke Design Health’s founder and director. “Not only is it convenient to the engineering, medicine and arts and sciences facilities on campus, Duke’s Innovation Co-Lab, which has additional design resources students can use, is across the street, just steps away—making it an important physical part of Duke’s growing design and innovation ecosystem.”

“Innovation can truly change the world and have huge, positive impacts globally. We are honored to be part of what Duke and Duke Engineering are doing.”

Matt Christensen | Civil Engineering graduate, Class of 2002

Duke Design Health has received attention for its work identifying pressing needs and developing innovative and practical solutions for clinicians and patients. In response to COVID-19, Richardson, fellow medical design experts and Duke Engineering faculty members Paul Fearis and Joseph A. Knight co-led an engineering response team that designed solutions to rapidly emerging needs faced by Duke Health clinicians.

Similar programs are being prepared through Duke’s Engineering Entrepreneurship initiative (EngEn) to focus on challenges such as climate change and social justice. Also being created is an Open Design Studio program, which will be based in the Christensen Center and offer courses and programs aimed at co-creating solutions with people traditionally underrepresented in design and decision-making processes.

“The Christensen Center is a resource for the whole university,” said Steve McClelland, an entrepreneur and executive-in-residence with Duke Engineering Entrepreneurship (EngEn). “The center will not only be a place where we teach innovation skills, but a place where we learn how to do innovation better and how to increase access to successful methods of innovation. We intend to share what we learn across the entire Duke and Durham innovation community.”

McClelland and Donna Crenshaw, executive director of the MEDx initiative to foster collaborations between Duke’s schools of medicine and engineering, are planning out software that can collect and analyze data from projects developed in the center. The vision is to uncover insights that could make the innovation process more efficient.

A commitment to Duke

The Christensen family has a long association and commitment to Duke. Clayton Christensen was a Harvard Business School professor and globally renowned management thinker who died in 2020 at age 67. He coined the term “disruptive innovation” and wrote and lectured widely on his ideas. Duke awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2017.

Matt Christensen E'02His daughter Ann Christensen is a 2001 Duke economics, public policy and political science graduate. Son Matt studied civil engineering and economics, played on the Duke men’s basketball team, and graduated from Duke in 2002.

Matt Christensen is today a member of the Pratt School of Engineering’s distinguished Board of Visitors.

“My family is grateful to have this opportunity to support Duke Engineering in its groundbreaking efforts to prepare students to become successful, lifelong innovators who address global challenges,” said Matt Christensen, CEO of Rose Park Advisors, a Boston investment firm he co-founded with his father to apply the concept of disruptive innovation to investing. “Innovation can truly change the world and have huge, positive impacts globally. We are honored to be part of what Duke and Duke Engineering are doing.”

More about the Christensen Family Center »