Designing and engaging, outside the classroom

At the California College of the Arts, a multi-disciplinary program gets students into community service -- not as a punishment, but as a reward.
Written by Mary Catherine O'Connor, Contributing Writer

Perhaps your Thanksgiving gathering will include a college student, on break from a frenetic, student-debt-building lifestyle. Ask her what, if anything, brings her out the classroom. What links his chosen field of study with, well, the field.

At the California College of the Arts, a program called Engage, coordinated by the school's Center for Art and Public Life, uses a collaborative, community-oriented approach to give students a taste of working in the so-called "real world" while also performing public service.

As Allison Arieff reports in The Atlantic, Engage moves the focus away from the tradition art and design school curriculum based on individual creation. "Engage addresses a shift toward work that is more collaborative and community-based," she writes. "Their motto is not DIY, but rather do it together."

Toward that end, Engage links students with organizations such as Dave Eggers' literary non-profit, 826 Valencia, where CAA students helped Bay Area high school kids create an anthology of their personal essays.

They also worked with gerontologists, medical professionals and designers to create a better communication and community programs at a low-income senior residence in San Francisco.

And, in a really hands-on project, students created artificial nesting homes for the Rhinoceros Auklet on Ano Nuevo Island, south of San Francisco. This seabird borrows in shallow nests that sea lions tend to crush while moving around the beach.

To help protect the nesting birds, students worked with biologists and  designed and built ceramic homes and then buried them in the sand on the island. Talk about a cool field trip:

Whether they're studying graphic design, architecture, creative writing, industrial design or fine arts, the Engage program gives students a taste for the dynamics involved in working with diverse communities who have specific needs and, in some cases, very real problems.

It's a program both the students and the communities they're helping (whether they're human or avian) can be thankful for.

From the Decoding Design blog, Happy Thanksgiving!

[via The Atlantic]

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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