Here in Design for America, we think DFAers are pretty amazing- not only for their work in DFA, but who they are as people and leaders. As such, we’re taking some time to feature a couple of them on our blog here. Get to know DFA Barnard Columbia founder and leader, Lulu Mickelson!
We hear you led a pretty cool grassroots movement while in high school- what was this about?
At my Southern California high school, I worked to combat local traffic congestion and the lack of bike use on campus by founding the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s “Bike It!” Initiative. We worked with the PTA, Santa Monica Police Department, and the Los Angeles Metro to launch what is now a nationally recognized program to encourage the use of alternative transport among students and teachers. Growing from the measly 25 bikes in the racks when I started high school, the initiative now boasts over 3,000 participants going car-free at our district-wide events. We have also won over one million dollars from the California Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School Program to make bike-friendly infrastructure improvements around the City of Santa Monica. It was my first foray into community organizing – now I am hooked on the power of grassroots change.
Wow- and what was the award you received your freshman year in Barnard?
One of the greatest ways to be an undergraduate, Barnard’s Centennial Scholars program gives between 8 and 12 students the opportunity to conceive
and pursue a personal project over their four years of college. We are set up with funding, mentorship, and exploratory seminars to cultivate an interdisciplinary academic venture. Mine is still in the works – but I aim to marry my work and insights from DFA with my Urban Studies course work to produce a positive impact in my Upper Manhattan community.
We know you are modest- but we also know that you received a leadership award your sophomore year at Barnard. Can you tell us a little bit about this?
Last spring I had the honor of receiving a Barnard Leadership Award from the Student Government Association to recognize my role in founding the Barnard-Columbia Design for America Studio. Within six months, Barnard-Columbia DFA had become an officially recognized group on campus with four Project Teams up and running, 25 students involved, and a growing professional network. It was and continues to be a collaborative effort – I am so excited for our continued growth as a Studio and the amazing individuals I get to build it all with.
What got you interested in Design for America?
After my freshman year, I was fed up with the band-aid service opportunities offered by my university and the theory-heavy courses unconcerned with real-world problems. I wanted to build something that could help students make change that mattered and take our learning outside the classroom. I identified Design for America as the future of learning – a platform that can empower a generation of innovative change-agents with the tools we need to tackle the complex, systemic challenges of the 21st century. Providing what formal education often fails to address, DFA gives students a hands-on opportunity to tackle local, social issues through human-centered design thinking, community interaction, and the creation of tangible impact based in research, collaboration,
iteration, and passion.
What has the DFA experience meant to you so far?
Since we launched last year, DFA has continuously challenged and inspired me. Though building our Studio, I have grown tremendously as a young leader. DFA has challenged me to teach and inspire others; to coalition-build with students, administration, and community organizations; to create Studio programing that balances flexibility, productivity, and fun; and to actively re-imagine what college civic engagement can look like. Through my efforts, I have also learned that the DFA spirit is contagious. Because of our Studio, I have had the privilege of meeting and collaborating with talented, ambitious innovators – like my fellow Studio Leads, Andrew Demas and Kendall Herman, and our growing crop of Team Leaders and Designers. We now have over 40 students involved with Barnard-Columbia DFA – and the power of their collective creativity never ceases to exceed my expectations and renew my faith in the power of grassroots impact.
You were accepted into StartingBloc this year- congrats! What do you hope to get out of this experience?
I am so thrilled to be part StratingBloc’s network of young social innovators. Through the upcoming workshop, I hope to get a better understanding of how my generation is re-defining their career paths to make a living will making the world a better place. As a junior, I am starting to figure out my post-college path, and I predict StartingBloc will serve as an ally in this process.
What advice would you give to others hoping to lead a grassroots movement on their campus or community?
Grassroots movements ignite when passion and strategy intersect. I am huge believer that it all starts with the WHY, then you can multiply and build your movement. As local leaders, we spark change by sharing our personal motivation and effectively communicating how our idea can address a need within our community. Make sure you back up your WHY with clear goals and immediate opportunities for community involvement. Own your passion and be loud – enthusiasm is contagious. Once you have your message down, take your WHY and multiply by getting press and building coalitions with important, influential stake-
holders. Finally, construct your movement to reflect your WHY, make sure to stay on-mission and grow your goals. Once you build locally, your efforts can scale-out to other communities – creating change on a larger scale and improving our nation and our planet.