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Engage University Students in Community Projects

Engineering and design students are invaluable creative resources. Giving students opportunities to solve practical problems is mutually beneficial-students enjoy seeing their work put into application and communities appreciate the solutions.

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A new program, named something along the lines of "IDEO EDU" or "D3" for design, develop, deploy. 

A collaboration between companies + local organizations + students + professors, will form teams that can design, build and deploy systems for local community engineering and design projects. (Using the Human-Centered Design process, of course!)

Need to build a new playground at the local park? Restoring a historical monument? Retrofitting your house to make it more energy efficient and save utilities costs? Trying to figure out the best way to capture rainwater for community garden irrigation?  These types of problems can be turned into design projects built into university curriculum (eg: @Stanford or EPICS @Princeton and Purdue).

Giving students more opportunities to apply their skills to solve practical problems is mutually beneficial-- students can take pride in seeing their project come to put into application and communities can enjoy and appreciate the students' work.

Community service agencies need the help of people with strong technical backgrounds to undertake projects that utilize new technology and implement creative solutions. Undergraduate students need practical experience in their discipline to succeed. Working on real world projects will not only strengthen community ties but may also help them secure employment post-graduation.

Companies, non-profits, local government bodies, university students, professors.

Additionally, high school students could become involved too- particularly if it gives students exposure to design and engineering and facilitates mentor relationships with local university students and faculty.

**This concept can easily be combined with some of the other Top 20 ideas:
ZipSpaces: Maybe students could revamp abandoned spaces for university events-- in exchange for redesigning or retrofitting the space, the students could use it for gallery exhibits, dance performances, fundraisers etc. instead of paying separately to rent out an existing venue.

Reclaimed in Detroit: Under the advising of Steelcase, students (esp. engineering, design, architecture etc.) could have design projects to create pieces using reclaimed materials. The pieces could either be for general consumers or for use in public spaces.

Open City: The OpenCity concept is a great forum for sharing ideas and pooling resources-- maybe community students- high school and college- could each pick local projects that they could take ownership of carrying out. Maybe there could be some type of design competition, where a panel of judges from the community vote for the best executed projects?

Vibrancy in a Box: Just as outlined in the Vibrancy-in-a-Box concept, theres a great opportunity for a youth programs- maybe some sort of collaborative internship between companies+students or between college+high school levels to create vibrancy- kits. 

For more reading, check out:
- A similar initiative at a number of schools is Design for America

What resources (money, time, people, technology, etc) will your concept need to be successful?

Motivated students from a engineering, architecture or design school can provide design skills and time. Furthermore, students from business, marketing, life sciences etc. would be valuable to the implementation of the project in the community. One possibility for raising money could be crowdfunding through online platforms: Another means for funding could be educational and non-profit grants.

What steps could you take to implement this idea today?

-Talk to administrators and professors at universities to gauge -and raise- interest -Survey potential projects in a community -Assemble a team of students, faculty, professionals, community members -HCD process -Fundraise -Implement

How can your idea be scaled so that it's implemented in cities around the world?

Scalable to any region via online sharing, but particularly suitable for areas with educational institutions.

My Virtual Team

Thanks everyone who inspired, critiqued and commented-- especially Shaona, Meena, Brian, Anne-Laure and Alana!


Join the conversation:

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Congratulations on your winning concept!
Hi Amanda I am participating in the current challenge, "How might we inspire young people to cultivate their creative confidence?" My concept "Calling All Tripsters" was shortlisted and I am reaching out to the OpenIdeo community for feedback, input, and specific needs, as I refine it. I found you on a search of this site and I am happy that I did! I think you can really give me some perspective on my concept.
I arrived here via Shaona. Shaona's concept, "A Youth and Elderly- Driven Tourist Cultural Center" was a build on your concept, "Engaging Students in Community Projects."
My concept is a tourism based project in which youth design/build a travel program, in their hometowns, for their peers as the customers. If you have the impetus have a look.
As a post grad what do you think of the idea? Do you see your contemporaries interested in working to build a program like this? Wanting to be guides, take a tour?
What would be the best way right now to reach out and market to your age group? to advertise HipTrips tours, or to advertise for students to come on board to develop the program?
Finally, what do you think would give a HipTrip tour that edge? that thing that would make a participant want to come back again?
Thank you for reading this!
Congratulations to you again.

Photo of Amanda Rees

Thanks for your comment! I think your concept is very compelling and definitely the type of project/ activity that I could see people joining. I also admire your effort to really gauge interest and float the idea with many different potential users. I especially think that linking these "hiptrips" up with youth hostels or Y centers is great. Would it be possible to add an element of food-- similar to GrubwithUs (

So much potential in this concept-- can't wait to see how it continues to evolve!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Amanda. Thank you for checking out HipTrips and for introducing the idea of GrubwithUs. I was not aware of this service. I think this can be of PARTICULAR interest for certain of our tour guests - those that have relocated to a new city for work, and are looking to meet new people, and those that are traveling alone. Of course anyone might enjoy the idea! One idea is to have that as an add on option. Another is to build it into any of the tours as a component. I will have to think about how to do that - a catered picnic in the spring or summer? a meal in which our guests join up with other locals who have signed in to dine at a venue thru GrubwithUs? Any ideas? Have you used GrubwithUs? Thanks so much for your support and if you have a second let me know your thoughts by evaluating HipTrips.

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