U of Michigan and Detroit Community Schools: A Design Partnership

reflections from collaborative work Fall 2011, with great appreciation to the schools and students involved, and big shouts out to Charlie Michaels, John Lonsway, Eric Thomas, Bart Eddy and Candyce Sweda.

Jenn Silverstein:

 Throughout the course of my semester in Design For Change, I have had an
incredible transformation in my creative mindset. I began the semester with
an open mind, but also had never thought about how this course (a required
A&D outreach) could be so influential in my life. I entered this school
year contemplating applying to Teach For America, mostly because graduating
is intimidating, and I wanted the security of having post-graduation plans.
However, after our first visit to DCS, a spark lit inside me and I knew
there was no looking back. I felt an enormous adrenaline rush of enthusiasm
and passion, a spark that I had been missing in other aspects of my
creative life in A & D.
        The past two summers, I have interned at a prominent  product design firm
in Manhattan. The projects were cool, the people were alright, the pay was
decent. In general, I was unsatisfied. I knew my creative abilities could
be put to better use but I thought product design/industrial design were at
the top of the pack. After this course, I KNOW that my creativity abilities
are best put to use in the ways that I am most passionate, and I am most
passionate about my work in Brightmoor and my future in TFA. I value
working with others, making an impact, and feeling directly connected to my
work. With product design, you solve problems right, such as a new
aesthetic for Dove Skin Care. However, when I graduate I now want to use my
creative abilities to sole the RIGHT problems. In Brightmoor, I felt the
connection grow every week between myself and Destiney (a friend at DCS!).
I felt her become more comfortable with me as she began to open up about
her aspirations, family life, and future goals. High fives turned into
hugs, and my dreams turned towards teaching, design thinking, and impacting
others lives.

(Jenn’s group project, BAM—Brightmoor Active Mentoring—created and implemented a highly popular shoe design workshop and program at Detroit Community School that is continuing this semester. The team included Jenn, Zack Moscot, Mithula Naik, Dan Gold and Neil Zemba who is leading the project currently.)

Stephanie Schutter:

In working with the DCS students, I got a crash course on the difficulty of teaching and of capturing and retaining attention. Many students were fast paced, quick learners, and easily distracted, which made for an interesting time. I must say that I now have an even greater appreciation for the speakers and teachers I have found engaging and inspirational; it is no easy task. As I worked with the teens, I also came to understand the power of listening. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason and simply being attentive and engaging makes a world of difference to others. Being at the school also reminded me of the insecurity I had as a freshman in high school, and I had more than one moment of surprise at how much I’ve changed since that time. Those moments of realization also gave me great hope for the students we worked with. They are going to be amazing adults.
Working with the students has also made me aware of the fact that most of my projects in college have been just that: projects. Never once has my work extended beyond my grasp to truly impact someone else until now. Yet that is what I desire all of my work to do, which means I am grappling with the implications for my future work. Because of the DCS students, I now am considering perspective on what it means to have longevity and sustainability.  Altogether, the experience with the students was a fun, upbeat, and exciting ride that I’d redo in a heartbeat.
(Stephanie’s team worked through many generations of prototypes and ultimately designed and implemented a building workshop that taught soldering and solar technology to the 9th grade class to manufacture bicycle mounted solar lights. The team included Stephanie along with James Reich, Sunny Kim, Oleg Kolbasov and Lara Slotnick. The project is continuing with a new crop of 9th grade students in Detroit. )

Alana Hoey:
            Working with DCS students, it became apparent that designing for a group of people cannot be done without continual collaboration between the designer and the “customer”. It would have been easy to decide for the students what the “problem” was and create a solution on our own, but that solution would most likely have no significance in the community. I discovered that the true worth of my work would be determined by the students’ connection to it.
            Meeting and working with the DCS students gave me a confidence in designing and creating that I never had before. This confidence developed by taking risks with the motivation of improving the students’ lives. Specifically with the pizza oven, the desire to follow through on my promise to the students and help their ideas become reality drove me to do whatever it took to create something functional. This helped me to realize that I work better with the knowledge that my work matters in the world. I have always wanted to work directly with people but I have also been afraid of being incompetent as an artist and designer and it was great to see that people actually inspire me in both the ideation and realization of work.

Chris McKenzie:
Working with the DCS students over the course of this semester has given me an opportunity to reconnect with my youth. They have opened up my eyes once more to the simple things in life. With the opportunities to talk and work with them as well as the walk around Brightmoor it makes one appreciate how privileged we are. It also showed how we do not need all of our “needs” as we think. The students are content and happy with what they have and make the best of it. I believe that we have learned far more from them than they have from us. We needed to learn how to take their ideas and make them reality. What was difficult about this process was that we had to really listen to what they were saying and how they were acting to truly get a sense of what they desired.
I now am even more eager to get into public policy and urban planning after having met the DCS 9th grade students. They are the individuals in which I want to make the policies for. They are the reasons I want to advocate for sustainable social change. They are the leaders of tomorrow and I want to do my best to provide as many opportunities for them to grow as possible which means creating policy which provide doors for them to walk through; or by getting rid of policies that chain them down into their current situation inhibiting them from making progress.

(Chris and Alana were part of Project Pizza. Along with Nairi Bagdasarian, Ran Li, Allyson Zelinski and Vaishu Ilankamban they designed and built a fully functional mobile pizza oven at which they taught pizza making skills to the 9th grade. The oven will fire up again soon as the project continues with an ambitious set of connections to locally sourced basil and tomatoes as well as to being a community hearth, a gathering place and a source of creative exploration through good eating.

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