Combining Youth Design Education and Community Development in Rural and Small-Town Illinois
Growing up in rural Illinois, I had no access to design education or design thinking and didn’t know that design existed as a field until I was already halfway through my college degree. I think it’s a massive disservice to residents of rural and small-town communities that there aren’t opportunities for kids growing up in them to explore creative problem solving and hands-on building outside of the occasional high school shop class, and I believe that there’s a clear opportunity for such education in these communities. It’s no secret that rural and small town communities across Illinois, and likely the entire country, are shrinking, and in some cases dying. While I understand that some population loss is unavoidable, I also believe that population loss and community shrinkage can be slowed down and managed in ways that help rebuild the communities. As someone who grew up in rural Illinois, I care deeply about keeping these communities alive and I believe there is value in doing so.
I believe that by teaching the young people who live in these communities both how to approach solving problems through a design thinking mindset and the skills necessary to implement their solutions, we can build communities that they are connected with and want to live in while also providing them with skills that they can use as a gateway to post-secondary education. I hold this belief because this idea is already being successfully implemented by nonprofits, such as Youth Design Center in Brooklyn, Building Futures in St. Louis, and Chicago Mobile Makers in Chicago. Unfortunately, applying these ideas in rural areas is not as simple as just recreating what these organizations do. Different barriers for this kind of work exist in different places, and as part of my thesis work, I want to explore what those barriers are in rural Illinois and what changes would need to be made to overcome them and create an organization that can serve these underserved populations.
Design Education, 3D Design, Woodworking, Hands-On Design Education, Community Development, K-12 Education