Organization:Design for America

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Design for America (DFA) was founded in 2009 at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering. The organization is devoted to “fusing collaboration, leadership, and creativity” to empower students to apply design thinking to large scale social problems. DFA works to accomplish this by establishing “design studios” at college campuses across the country. Then, the studios are provided with the necessary resources to effectively utilize design thinking and engage in projects that create impact in their local communities. “Studio” is a term used by DFA to define a group of like-minded students that come together to think, design, and innovate. The studios themselves can look different depending on which university you visit; varying from  a designated physical space on campus to simply available classrooms where students can meet.

Currently, DFA has spread to 37 campuses around the United States, serving 1200+ students. The establishment of each new studio follows the model of the original Northwestern studio in order to preserve the student-led atmosphere. Again, Design for America utilizes these studios to give young adults the experience needed to be team players, purposeful learners, and effective leaders.



Design for America is an organization that is based on the idea that people cannot be innovated without believing in themselves. Working on a national level to build a network of students who consistently create an impact through team-based projects. The main goal of Design for America is to generate a network of students who actively work to solve social problems and make an impact in their communities. In order to assess its challenges and complete all steps in the design process from creating ideas to feasible product development, student teams must survey their local communities. Student teams are either part of a studio or independently run by students on campuses nationwide. Design for America believes that every student has the drive to make an impact through design innovation to solve problems in the world around them.

Co-founder Dr. Liz Gerber has conducted research for new ways of learning about human centered design called Extracurricular Design-Based Learning. This system engages students and community members to think about the biggest challenges we face in the world through education, health, economy, and environment. The vision of this organization is the create belief that one can be motivated in our ability to make change. Design for America strongly believes that we must believe and challenge our ability to generate innovative solutions that addresses the world’s challenges by applying extracurricular design-based learning.

Distinct Differences From Other Offerings
Design for america gala2.jpg

The distinct value that Design for America offers is the formation of a campus organization devoted to helping students develop their ideas through working in teams and also using proven methods of designed-based learning. DFA equips students to tackle social challenges through design innovation.DFA provides studio support through faculty, advisors, professional design mentors, community partners, and administrators within the DFA organization. The significance of Design for America on your campus is the ability to create a pipeline of leaders and thinkers that can make an impact within their community. DFA is also simultaneously broadening the idea of an "impact" from the traditional sense of starting a new venture, to all types of social endeavours. For example, starting a volunteer organization or teaching classes about nutrition in the local community or extraordinary challenges in economy, education, and environment. DFA projects fuse collaboration, leadership, and creativity. Lastly, DFA is committed to the continuing development of interdisciplinary student teams. Students from all majors and backgrounds play crucial parts on campus studios and bridge the gap between business, science, engineering, and liberal arts.

Impact Achieved For Students and Campus

On campus, student teams work on 2-3 self-selected design projects throughout the academic year and apply skills, knowledge, and expertise from their course work. Design for America teaches students how to look at their local community, find problems, think of solutions, and implement those changes. These experiences are enhanced through DFA’s National Partnerships. When partnering with DFA, “companies gain valuable insight from the next generation of changemakers”, but the students benefit immensely from opportunities to engage in real world experiences. In the past, students have successfully contributed “reimagined marketing/promotion strategies, innovation in product development, and provisional patents of product prototypes”.

Since the creation of Design for America, over 2,000 students have participated in campus studios, 37 campuses have gotten involved, and two start ups (SwipeSense and Jerry the Bear) have come to market. Jerry the Bear is a stuffed animal that helps children with Type 1 Diabetes monitor their blood sugar levels and build healthy behaviors through play. SwipeSense “uses sensors in hospital personnel badges and dispensers to capture hygiene activity” to help prevent hospital acquired infections. Currently, SwipeSense has raised $16.9 million in funding and employs over 35 people (Visit the Blog page on DFA’s website for more info).When students engage in these projects through DFA design studios, the campus enjoys stronger connections between disciplines, an increased awareness of the power of design thinking, and access to a constantly growing national network. Listed below are the schools currently involved with Design for America and some of the current projects developing at these campuses.

Colleges with Design for America studios:

Babson|Olin|Wellesley (BOW)

Barnard College|Columbia University

Carnegie Mellon University

Case Western Reserve University|Cleveland Institute of Art

Cornell University

Duke University

Johns Hopkins University|Maryland Institute College of Art

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Michigan State University

Northwestern University

Portland State University

Purdue University

New York University

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rice University

Rhode Island School of Design|Brown University

Stanford University

Tulane University

University of Alabama

University of Cincinnati

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

University of California, Davis

University of California, Los Angeles

University of California, San Diego

University of Colorado Boulder

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of Notre Dame

University of Oregon

University of Pittsburgh

University of Southern California

University of St. Thomas

University of Texas at Austin

University of Vermont

Vanderbilt University

Virginia Tech

Washington University in St. Louis

Yale University

Some Recent Design for America Projects:

  1. Swipe Sense- How can we reduce hospital acquired infections?
  2. Immerse- How can we build community support to reduce isolation felt by people with dementia?
  3. Navigation, in a Sense- How can we support autistic travellers to comfortably navigate the airport experience?
  4. Planner 2- How can we create a fun way for middle school students to gain emotional awareness and feel comfortable discussing emotions with their parents?

Steps Required To Bring Resource to Campus

In order to bring this resource to campus, student leaders need to be informed on the application process of Design for America.

  1. Start the DFA application by contacting Design for America
  2. To receive training from DFA student leaders must attend conference in August
  3. Identify a group of 30 students by the student leaders that are interested in Design for America
  4. Contest a Design for America studio on campus
  5. Identify 1-10 projects and community partners for the studio
  6. Begin one project and go through the design process
  7. Final interview

For more information about applying for Design for America, visit the website at


About Them  \

Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center
2133 Sheridan Rd. G.302 Evanston, IL 60208

Get conected!

To receive more general information visit Design for America's website:






Edited by :Riley_Dean, JC Maroun, Maldonado_Gala