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How can designers contribute to the critical assessment of urban heat islands, or the reduction of obesity rates in homeless children, or the development of a more effective assimilation process for refugees in the United States? To answer these questions, practicing designers and students must be able to effectively communicate and demonstrate the value of design in addressing social challenges and there must be a structure in place to support those seeking opportunities in this emerging space. So how and where should this happen? Design education is one place to start, and this is exactly what a group of eight graduate students in Baltimore are doing. They are part of the Master of Arts in Social Design at Maryland Institute College of Art and are working at the intersection of design and the social sector; re-imagining solutions to the challenges facing society.
MICA has a long and significant history of socially responsible and issue-based art and design initiatives and strives to be a leader in social design education and thought leadership. Now more than ever, creating contexts for students to engage in real-world challenges and develop deeper skill-sets, beyond the visual and aesthetic must be explored in education if we expect to influence and create new roles for the designer in practice. Transformational, interdisciplinary, project-based learning is vital for design education and MICA continues to encourage and support the development of new frameworks for accommodating these opportunities.
Six years ago, I founded MICA’s Center for Design Practice, a multi-disciplinary, project-based studio engaging students and outside partners in socially conscious projects using design and creativity to translate ideas into tangible outcomes with the goal of making a positive impact on society. Each project receives external funding, partners with an outside entity, focuses on a specific issue or challenge, engages undergraduate and graduate students, and utilizes a faculty project manager. The CDP has engaged more than 125 students and faculty across 10 disciplines and majors, and partnered with more than 20 outside organizations and entities, including non-profits, government agencies, other institutions, centers, and businesses.

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Sponsor A Day of Design

Support Architecture for Humanity by sponsoring a day of design.



Over a decade ago, when humanitarian design got little media coverage and was thought by many to be the poor relation of "real design" there emerged the fearless and groundbreaking non-profit, Architecture for Humanity. Co-founded by Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr, who left rather more high profile jobs in New York City to run the then super tiny non-profit from an equally tiny studio apartment, AFH has grown considerably in its reach, influence, and number of projects. Today, big personalities and major design consultancies take on (or try to take on) the humanitarian projects that AFH has been involved in for years but no one does it quite like AFH. Who else can claim to have completed a project on every continent of the world for three years running?

In 2010 alone, over 81,000 people benefited directly from the work of AFH. As Sinclair explains, they weren't just inspired by it "but actually living, healing, learning or working in structures designed and constructed by our teams of building professionals." This year's 53 projects included community facility building in Chile and Kenya, post-disaster reconstruction in Haiti and Pakistan, low cost health clinics in India, and youth sports development work in Brazil, Mali, and Namibia. In previous years they've built soccer fields (like the Baguineda Football for Hope Centre shown above), skate parks, sustainable schools, mobile health clinics and model homes among other important projects.

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