Global Engagement Pilot 2017

The chance for PennDesign students to engage with local community groups and projects for an extended amount of time in a meaningful capacity is often limited to design studios and a few special occasions throughout their time in the School of Design. Additionally, at a time when a design-thinking approach and interdisciplinary collaboration are becoming essential to the successful development of projects at community, national, and global scales, PennDesign graduate students have a growing duty to prioritize genuine engagement with the communities for which they are designing.

The summer 2017 Pilot for Global Social Engagement aimed to provide current and recently graduated PennDesign students such an opportunity to work hands on with local communities in sub-Saharan Africa. PennDesign students Zoe Axelrod (MCP’18), Laura Colagrande (MArch’18), Chan Voong (MUSA’17), and Sarai Williams (MCP/MLA’17) worked in South Africa and Botswana on projects encompassing the realm of mobile vision screening, medical product design, permaculture, natural building strategies, and sustainable development.

Establishing relationships with local partners began in the summer of 2015 when Williams visited Botswana on a research internship through Penn Global to explore ways by which Penn could expand its current partnership with Botswana beyond medicine to other fields, this particular objective being the realm of design. As a result of several meetings with local students, professors, city officials, community organizations, and other active members of the area over her two month stay, Sarai was able to establish a rapport with several individuals, the most influential being Ryan Littman-Quinn with Peek Vision and the Penn Center for Global Health, who helped develop program initiatives for student/community member collaboration on local projects.

A more detailed summary of the work done by the students and their local partners can be observed in the blog posts as well as the examples of their project deliverables.

The success of the pilot is being measured by the feedback on the experience from the participating students as well as from the local partners. PennDesign alumna Sarai Williams is currently evaluating the sustainability of this pilot into a formalized program available to students every summer and expanded to other regions of the globe. A subsequent PennDesign Global Social Engagement program is dependent on the concerted effort of several groups including but not limited to the students, local partners abroad, the PennDesign community, and potential sponsors.