Community Engagement: Learning from the Design Studio, Fostering Paths Toward Meaningful Collaboration

Presented by: Rene King, Petra Probstner, Tim Cozzens

The phrase community engagement has become imbedded in higher education; it appears in strategic plans, course titles and descriptions, and broad learning outcomes for 21st century curriculum. The challenge we have faced is how to incorporate community engagement opportunities into the design curriculum that produce meaningful learning outcomes for students, and the communities that we partner with. How do we shape experiences for our students that foster social and environmental activism in emerging design professionals? This presentation will highlight a series of projects faculty have developed that explore various scales and levels of involvement; from a one day design charette, to semester long projects that explore various social and environmental issues. Blessed Unrest, by Paul Hawken, has served as an introductory primer for students on the wide array of possibilities for social change. Hawken writes about the importance of narrative in society and the ways that narratives are able to change with time, and enable communities to dream and guide new possibilities. (Hawken, 26). Our hope is that these early conversations will empower our students to think about the narratives that exist in their lives and to identify areas that they will one day impact through design. The first project will highlight the program's annual design charette, which has been built into the curriculum and is required of all students enrolled in a design studio. This quick one day challenge provides students with the opportunity to engage with a local non-profit, and to work in teams to propose solutions to the identified problem or need. The next project will highlight a semester long studio project and the varied student outcomes. The final project will look at how the program designed new curriculum to provide a more permanent place for civic engagement within the student experience.


  • Hawken, Paul. Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being, and Why No One Saw It Coming. New York: Viking, 2007. Print.
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