Last weekend, we invited over 90 DFAers from 28 studios across the country to participate in our 5th annual Design for America Leadership Studio!

Hosted at Northwestern University, Leadership Studio is a conference that fosters design and leadership skills in DFA student leaders. Over the course of four days, students worked together in interdisciplinary teams to apply human-centered design to those touched by Down Syndrome, designed strategies for managing their studios, and connected with an extensive network of students, alumni, and professionals.

The event was officially kicked off by Professor Liz Gerber of Segal Design Institute. As Faculty Co-Founder of DFA, Liz has seen the network grow from a couple of students in her office to hundreds of students across the country. Gathering everyone in a circle, she led a cool ice breaker that connected students together and helped reveal just how strong the DFA network is.

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Students worked together in eighteen different teams, all of which represented a mix of schools and majors. After hearing an inspiring Keynote speech from Bridget Brown, a national public speaker, Vice President of the National Association for Down Syndrome, and self-advocate with Down Syndrome, students dove into secondary research and user interviews.

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Students had the opportunity to interview various stakeholders, including people with Down Syndrome, family members, friends, caregivers, and teachers. We’d like to thank all those who came to Northwestern to provide insight, and Miseracordia for hosting students on site.

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Once they reframed their opportunity spaces, they ideated hundreds of solutions, built many prototypes, tested with users, and crafted their pitch.

Among those were:

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Carebasket is a congratulatory gift bag for new parents of children born with Down Syndrome that aims to provide them support from their community in a new chapter of their lives.

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Hats! is a game for kids to create an inclusive environment that fosters ambition. In Hats! kids are given roles such as chef or artist, work on a project together, then trade roles to learn that anyone can fulfill any role.

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SudBud is a system of shower products for all ages of people with Down Syndrome to increase safety and independence in daily life skills.

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InfoBuddy is a communication device for parents of children with Down Syndrome that simplifies sharing vital caretaking information. With all of the child’s dietary and personality information consolidated into one standardized place, others can easily learn about your child.

Leadership Studio was also a chance for participants to enhance their individual DFA studios on their own campus. Through leadership training sessions, breakout conversations, “Design Your Studio” workshops, and an expo where studios brought their own tool to share with the network, student leaders came together to share best practices and prepare for the upcoming school year.

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“As a new studio, it was so helpful to hear feedback from other studios and also have dedicated time to visually hash out our plan,” a student commented on a “Design Your Studio” workshop.

This year we had the pleasure of inviting industry professionals to give hard skill workshops, speak with students at our career networking event, and discuss life after DFA at our Alumni Panel.

Students learned cardboard prototyping with James Dyson Foundation, 3D CAD modeling with Autodesk, UI/UX story-telling sketching with Sproutel, and remote collaboration with Mural.

At our career networking event students had the chance to chat with Greater Good Studio, Gravity Tank, DFA Collaborative, Sproutel, Autodesk, Newell Rubbermaid, SapientNitro, Mural, Insitum, Gensler, IDEO, and the Master of Science in Engineering Design & Innovation Program.

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Our wonderful alumni – Hannah Chung from Sproutel, Justin Wu from Fjord, and Ada Ng from GfK – chatted with students about navigating careers and post-graduation life.

“The alumni panel was great!” one student reflected, “It was really comforting to know that there are so many different career opportunities and ways to get there.”

Dean Julio Ottino from the McCormick School of Engineering wrapped up the event with some words of inspiration about whole-brain thinking. Learn more about DFA Leadership Studio on McCormick’s blog!

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We’d like to thank everyone involved in helping create such a memorable weekend! Especially to our keynote sponsor James Dyson Foundation, who supported DFA throughout the year.

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