Students apply design principles for social solutions

Can "design thinking" help to solve poverty and racism?

Middle school students in East Palo Alto brainstormed for solutions to those concerns in a summer program that stressed new ways of problem solving.

The 17 students in the Foundation for College Education's new Steam program used principles of "design thinking," developed at the, Stanford University's Institute of Design, to create projects addressing problems in their neighborhoods.

"We picked poverty because we saw homeless people in East Palo Alto," said Javier Berrera, whose group came up with the idea of placing donation boxes for school supplies around town, with information on dropout rates attached.

"The reason we thought a lack of education was a big part of poverty was because most of our parents didn't finish school," he said.

"We thought kids who drop out have a lack of resources, and school supplies would encourage them to get excited about school."

College students Rachel Jue and Ken Kauffman, who have participated in programs at the Stanford, spent four weeks teaching the middle school students how to apply the steps of "design thinking," which they described as "empathy, define, ideate, prototype and test."

The summer unit, which ended July 26, was "a way to get kids to be a little more abstract while doing some concrete work," said Anna Waring, executive director of Foundation for a College Education. The summer curriculum also included some discussion of early college planning for the students, most of whom are entering sixth grade, as well as trips to Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, a water-treatment plant and the Exploratorium.

The 18-year-old Foundation for College Education runs parent education and after-school programs to increase the number of students of color from the East Palo Alto area who graduate from a four-year college. Of the program's 140 graduates since 1999, all have enrolled in college and 85 percent have graduated or are on track to do so -- more than three times the national rate for students of color.

This summer's Steam program was the launch of the foundation's new program for middle school students, aimed at helping the youth "develop the curiosity, persistence and resilience to become successful learners and adolescents."

In the fall, the middle schoolers will come to the Foundation for College Education twice a week for mentoring and homework support and, one Saturday a month, for larger projects or field trips to places like Stanford's technology-based FabLab or the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Waring said.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2013 at 10:18 am

[Post removed.]

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Susie
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 14, 2013 at 10:37 am

The Foundation for a College Education is a powerfully effective program. EPA City Council member Laura Martinez is one of the graduates. It is so important that many of the alums return to make EPA a stronger community.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jim Phillips
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Aug 14, 2013 at 11:10 am

Cheers for Foundation for a College Education (FCE), the students, parents, and East Palo Alto community members!

FCE has been a creative force in our area - going on two decades. I'm so glad to see that the organization remains energetically on the leading edge.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 15, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Since I was not familiar with the term "design thinking", I did some research. What I found is troubling to me as it has aspects of social manipulation in its application. "(design thinking) is a form of solution-based, or solution-focused thinking that starts with the goal of what is meant to be achieved instead of starting with a certain problem."wikipedia. By stating a given goal up front, and then asking for a creative solution to reach that goal, makes the assumption that the stated goal is the only valid one and that no other goal is available for discussion; simply stated, here is the goal now creatively get us there. Those involved in the process have been effectively channeled and pre programmed to arrive at the pre determined goal, with only the path to that goal the product of "design thinking"
To me, this concept is ripe for abuse as a social manipulation tool. How many of you have, as I, attended government meetings where we were asked for our input to solve a problem? Staff lays out just enough information so the path is a simple one to the goal that staff wants. Staff gets what they want without a lot of messy discussion, and the public feels that they have had a voice in the process.
Perhaps "design thinking" has more merit than I am giving it, but if it quack like a duck........

 +   Like this comment
Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 17, 2013 at 7:46 pm

@Bob -

"...spent four weeks teaching the middle school students how to apply the steps of "design thinking," which they described as "empathy, define, ideate, prototype and test."" from the article, reads as though it meets your objections. Are your objections that you want a more paternalistic top-down approach? Is there something wrong with raising the kids to be Americans? The campaign they came up with sounded very practical.

ps - Corporations are stuffing so much lobbied labor immigration into the recent immigration bills in Washington that the EPA kids will be pushed out of STEM in general as a future. The PA kids will be pushed out much after 30-35 as well. Again, brain-draining the world is a privilege, but what's happening is way beyond that yet under the voter's radar. Adding up all the programs projected is pushing a quarter million a year in mostly tech workers alone. Then several hundred thousand a year more in low skilled occupations. There is no evidence of labor shortages.

You and your family and neighborhood may have more common cause with the kids in EPA than you may think.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Innovate
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 17, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Read "Change by Design" by Tim Brown, CEO of the design firm IDEO, for a more rational explanation of design thinking than that provided by "Bob." From what I read, it has nothing to do with the dreaded social manipulation that Bob posits.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Draeger’s Los Altos eyes upgrades, expansion
By Elena Kadvany | 4 comments | 3,290 views

Housing is for People
By Steve Levy | 33 comments | 2,270 views

College Visit: Lehigh and Lafayette
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 4 comments | 1,598 views

"the Summit" (CompPlan): Forewarned is Forearmed
By Douglas Moran | 21 comments | 853 views

A quiet moment
By Sally Torbey | 8 comments | 643 views