In a room in Burchard Hall, Post-its flourish into a pale yellow mural, creating a network of ideas.
The palm-sized pieces of paper stick a group of busy architecture students to a cause: using their talents to help others.
Although they are the biggest financial burden of the Virginia Tech chapter of Design for America, they are the foundation of the organization goal of connecting community members and local businesses to solve problems in unique, effective ways.
Rob Calvey and Michael Kulikowski, both fifth-year architecture students, co-founded the Tech chapter of Design for America to accomplish this task. One of DFA’s defining characteristics is its emphasis on a human-centered design process, relying heavily on the interaction of community members.
“I was really excited by the way Design for America has worked with the community and the people who use [community business] products,” Calvey said.
Last year, Calvey and Kulikowski assisted Tech with a project that targeted alternative forms of transportation.
As part of these efforts, DFA created signs depicting how long it takes to walk, bike or take the bus to certain locations. At first, local residents were weary of the additions, but once DFA members explained their goal, the neighborhood welcomed the change.
This year they hope to expand the program, tackling the local issue of poverty.
“We’re looking at hunger, illiteracy and community access,” said Calvey.
Members analyzed and discussed the problems at DFA’s Design 101: Kick-Off workshop on Sunday. At the workshop, Calvey and Kulikowski split the organization’s members, about 40 people, into teams of five.
Once split up, the teams did some research — or got their “Google Ph.Ds,” as Calvey stated — for possible causes of illiteracy, hunger and lack of community access.
The workshop provided a platform for the diverse group of members, which includes students, faculty, Blacksburg residents and even some out-of-state volunteers, to share their experiences and ideas.
Local organizations including Micah’s Backpack, Plenty, the Bike Kitchen, VT Engage and Virginia Head Start participated, presenting how they work to mitigate these community concerns. One of DFA’s strengths is how it connects groups, enabling the opportunity to discover new and improved solutions.
“A lot of time there are two efforts going on around campus that are essentially trying to do the same thing, but they don’t know about each other,” Kulikowski said. “I am seeing DFA as really a way to kick start this effort of interdisciplinary actions on campus.”
Members of the community also attended the meeting, as they will be potential beneficiaries and stakeholders for DFA projects. This communication structure allows the community members to share what they really need and DFA to explain what they are trying to accomplish.
“We believe in designing with, rather than for,” said Larry Fenske, the DFA’s faculty adviser and a visiting assistant professor of industrial design. DFA not only fosters the interaction among volunteers, but also among different majors.
Although both co-founders are architecture majors, the DFA welcomes students majoring anywhere from business to communication, as they bring a different perspective.
“Tech is kind of siloed in its colleges, and it tends to not be too much cross disciplinary,” said Kulikowski. “Something I think is pretty amazing about what potential DFA has is starting to draw bridges between all the different disciplines at our university.”
In order for interdisciplinary action to occur, however, DFA must first secure a sturdy member base. Fortunately, the numbers appear to be growing and the team is brainstorming more ways to create buzz, including a recent barbeque.
“Our biggest challenge right now is keeping DFA here and active,” said Calvey.