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Designathon seeks to increase engagement in public service

Design for America (DFA)’s first annual Designathon at Stanford brought together more than 20 students this weekend to brainstorm ways of addressing low engagement in public service on campus.

At the event, which was held on March 2 at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school), student teams presented proposals to the Haas Center for Public Service’s Executive Director Thomas Schnaubelt and Director of Executive Partnerships Kelly Beck, who served as judges.

Groups were tasked with devising a variety of solutions to the issue of low student engagement in public service, with a focus on bringing public service to the forefront of the Stanford student experience.

According to Viraj Bindra ’15, Director of Communication for DFA’s Stanford chapter, one of the primary goals of the event was getting students interested in the design process.

“[The event] was much more for engagement, just to get people thinking about this if they have zero experience or even if they have a lot,” he said. “One of the things we do at DFA is focus on social problems and tailor our design thinking towards those, so this is an excellent example that is specific to Stanford of what we do on a broader scale nationwide.”

The event attracted a diverse audience, from DFA project leaders to students with no prior design experience. David Herman ’16, a project leader, helped guide newcomers through the design process’ various steps, including conducting research, framing a question and creating a prototype.

“It’s an iterative process, but in the end you end up with a pretty good framing and understanding of the problem, and you have a pretty good understanding of how a solution could help address the problem,” Herman said.

Bindra’s group proposed an app with a calendar of public service events that would allow students to “check in” at events and earn points based on the number of events they attended. Students would then be able to redeem those points for perks like skipping the line at Ike’s.

However, the judges expressed concern that the app would struggle to gain traction among students and instead chose a group composed of non-DFA members as the winner. The winning group’s proposal focused on improving outreach to incoming freshmen by establishing service hubs in freshmen dorms and sending out materials showcasing Stanford’s community service opportunities.

“We loved the focus on freshman,” Schnaubelt said. “This is a terrible analogy, but it’s like with smoking campaigns. Who do you target? The kids. We like the actual connection to the freshman dorms.”

According to Schnaubelt, the Haas Center’s collaboration with Design for America has just begun.

“Design for America is going to be working on a part of our redesign that involves how Stanford students get involved in those mentoring and tutoring programs,” Schnaubelt said. “I’m particularly interested in how we create a program that will allow Stanford students to participate, particularly around [the limited] time that is available.”

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