Student Org Spotlight – Design For America Tulane

Designing for Inclusivity and Access for All at DFA’s 7th Annual Leadership Studio


Design for America (DFA) Tulane is an interdisciplinary group of students working together using human-centered design to create local and social impact. Members design products, programs, experiences, and innovative ways to tackle community problems. The Taylor-advised club is looking for students, faculty and community members passionate about making a lasting impact, and is one of 30 DFA chapters nationwide.


DFA Studio Leads Piper Serra and John Alexander and Changemaker in Residence Maya Cohen


“This year at DFA Tulane we’re focused on educating new members, while leveraging the experience of the returning Team Leads,” says Piper Serra, DFA Tulane president and studio lead. As Studio Leads, Piper and John Alexander are the driving force behind the teams and their projects, aiding DFA members in developing successful projects through workshops and education on design thinking and related concepts. Team Leads are the link between their respective student teams and the studio leads, and all the components of the club work together to support one another’s projects. “We’re excited to have a mix of project teams this year—healthcare, sustainability, community engagement, and education—that are possible through our partnerships with other student organizations as well as the Paterson Changemaker RLC.”


Design for America Tulane’s 2016-2017 studio team

The Paterson Changemaker RLC joining DFA collectively shows immense promise for a semester of opportunities and success. The Changemaker Residential Learning Community is community of open-minded and motivated students who want to create change on their hall, at Tulane, and in New Orleans. Residents of the Changemaker RLC cultivate an open atmosphere and foster a culture of positive social change throughout campus and the community. Together, residents have the opportunity to explore entrenched and complex challenges such as overcoming inequality, sustaining coastal cities, and understanding New Orleans’s high incarceration rate.

“This year, pairing the RLC with DFA, we are given an opportunity to explore our different interests as well as the tools to make a difference both on campus and in New Orleans,” explains Maya Cohen. Maya is one of the Changemakers in Residence: upperclassmen who were previously members of the RLC who are now responsible for integrating freshmen in the RLC to the greater Taylor, Tulane, and New Orleans communities. “Throughout first semester, Team Leads of DFA are leading participants in empathy building activities and teaching us about various problems throughout the world. The goal is by the end of this semester, members of DFA will have focused their interests and become ready to tackle a problem at Tulane or in New Orleans next semester,” continued Cohen.


30 Circles Exercise




“DFA Tulane is going through a big period of change now that we have partnered with the Changemaker RLC,” explains John Alexander, a Studio Lead with DFA Tulane, “We have been running Design Thinking workshops on each stage of the DT process to try to educate all the new members in engaging and fun ways.” One of the ways DFA Tulane’s leadership has engaged the RLC students and other club members was a session focused on creativity that included a 30 Circles activity and a mind mapping activity.

“30 Circles is a great activity with a short time limit to really get the creativity flowing at the beginning of a session, and mind mapping allows us to help new members understand the importance of issues connected to the ‘How Might We?’ question. After doing a fun mind map to get students comfortable with the exercise, we switched into a mind map around one the problems each small group is focused on with the objective of putting down anything and everything they currently know about their system of interest.” Each week, the club draws on its leaders’ extensive knowledge in design thinking to engage in activities that challenge teams to best understand the problems they have decided to tackle this semester.

Interested students are welcome to join DFA Tulane’s meetings from 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM in the Paterson Changemaker RLC Lobby and to connect with DFA Tulane’s Facebook.