DFA trains the next generation of social innovators. Our tools, model, and coaching instill community, encourage creativity, and build student capacity to take on any challenge.

Where It Began

At Northwestern, Liz Gerber envisioned an organization that would inspire students to take their creativity into their communities. She recruited three exceptional students, Mert Iseri, Yuri Malina, and Hannah Chung, and together with the help of mentors and community partners in the greater Chicago area, they brought Design for America to life. With the support of Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, DFA expanded from an initial Northwestern program to include seven other universities in 2011. Today, DFA is a national network committed to design, innovation, entrepreneurship, and the capacity to make change.  

Meet the Team!

Bruce Ankenman, PhD
Faculty Co-Director

Bruce is interested in the entire process of design, development, and continuous improvement in industry. This has translated directly to his critical leadership role within DFA as well as his role as Co-Director of Northwestern Design and Innovation where Bruce directs undergraduate education programs. When he isn’t focusing on meeting human needs with technology, Bruce is immersing in the opposite; nature! He especially enjoys backpacking in wilderness areas outside national parks.

Emily Kolar
Program Coordinator

Emily is an Illinois native who studied Corporate Communication and Advertising at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. She proceeded to work at a non-profit providing services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities before moving to Chicago to work in a fast-paced sales environment. She left the company after five years to pursue her passion to help design a better world. After joining Northwestern in 2016 and DFA one year later, she found that by inspiring, advocating and pursuing success with passion and purpose, lives can be changed through hope, happiness, and optimism.

Geneva Vest
2017-2018 Fellow

Geneva sees the built environment as a social system that can both hurt and help communities. For this reason, she became particularly passionate about inclusive design at the urban scale which led her to study sociology at Rice University, work for local actors in her hometown’s city planning, and write about architecture and development to raise public awareness. She also likes to go either to really, really big cities or remote natural areas.

Ken Hunter

Fascinated by space, Ken constantly envisions how to manipulate environments to better serve those within them. He is a painter and public works artist that has a keen interest in developing a greater sense of community participation through engagement with his art, and looks to empower others to do the same. He sees DFA as an ideal outlet for developing community programs and how to move ideas into action. In his free time he enjoys making mixed media drawings, walking without any direction, and trying new foods (without walnuts of course.)


Liz Gerber, PhD
Faculty Co-Director & Faculty Founder

Driven early on by “what can I do for others?” Liz continues to create communities that innovate collectively to tackle messy and meaningful problems. She is a design professor with a passion for understanding social interactions and practical applications for technology. She enjoys when her kids teach her how to skateboard, practicing improv with her husband, and traveling back to Vermont to swim and harvest honey.


Matt Easterday, PhD
Learning Advisor

Matt is devoted to designing educational technologies and programs to promote engaged and knowledgeable citizens who can solve the challenges facing our society such as poverty, climate change and militarism.  As a Learning Sciences professor, he has developed cognitive games to teach policy argumentation, computer-supported deliberation forums, and online project-based learning platforms for innovation.  He likes to help his kids develop their martial-arts skills, play video games, and construct elaborate, digitally-enhanced cardboard armor.


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Michelle Baverman
2016 - 2017 Fellow

Michelle studied architecture and is fascinated by how the design of spaces, products, and systems can affect each and every person’s daily life. She also enjoys paying attention to how little details can make big impact. She founded DFA at the University of Cincinnati and has since discovered and developed her passion for human-centered design and getting people excited about social innovation. Outside of DFyAy, she loves running half marathons, exploring on her bike, eating ice cream, and seeing live music.


Rebecca Breuer
Executive Director

Rebecca has a long-standing interest in complex problem-solving and in bringing together the myriad of partners required to have lasting impact. She values pragmatic ideas, innovation and good food. When not working with the network, Rebecca explores city neighborhoods and looks for new adventures en route.



Rob Calvey
Instructional Coordinator

Rob was hooked on the ways that the design process could help address the biggest challenges of our time after learning about design and problem solving in architecture school. A small group of friends helped co-found the DFA Virginia Tech studio in Blacksburg VA during Rob’s 4th year; Rob has eagerly worked with DFA to support community-based design education to different disciplines across the country. In his spare time Rob cooks up new and old recipes, watches the Hokies, and documents all the ways wikipedia shapes his life.