GPH Students Design User-Focused Solutions to Reduce Waste

GPH Students Design User-Focused Solutions to Reduce Waste

A campus thrift store. An app to find a printer on campus. A composting program in the residence halls. These are just a few of the concepts Global Public Health Scholars developed in collaboration with the Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to address the problem of waste in College Park. 

The four-week class project led students through experiential and discovery-based learning using interviewing and observation techniques in the field to gain insight about real-world problems. Members of the Academy, a department developed by the University of Maryland to teach new learning methodologies, introduced students to design-thinking and were on hand during class sessions to guide students. 
“A lot of design-thinking concepts lend themselves to the public health sphere,” Meenu Singh, an Academy advisor, said. “Public health is ultimately about humans, we want to teach students about human-centered design.” 

 Students worked in small groups, and together they developed solutions to different aspects of the overarching problem of waste on a university campus using the Academy’s design thinking strategies. 

The process followed five different steps: empathy, define, brainstorm, prototype and test. During their weekly colloquium class period, Singh led the students through a series of activities, like asking volunteers to prototype a house using Post-Its in order to get their creativity flowing. 

“Good prototypes are interactive. The user tells you what they think it does,” Singh said.

The students went out in real settings to research their project at each stage of development.  

“My favorite part of the project was the brainstorming stage,” Katya Kaplan, a sophomore community health major, said. “It allowed us to throw out crazy ideas no matter how unfeasible. Amazingly, some of the craziest ideas aren't that out of reach when you think about them.”

Instructor Meenu Singh discusses design-thinking strategies with students

Kaplan and her group developed an idea for a campus thrift store to reduce student-clothing waste. At the store, students could donate their clothes and receive points that can be used to purchase other clothing items. 

“Design-thinking made us put the end-user first and design a product that would fit their needs and fix their problems,” Kaplan said. 

Lily Gates, a sophomore early childhood education major, said the most helpful stage for her group was empathy. They came up with a solution to the excess cleaning fluid waste at Eppley Recreation Center. 

“When we interviewed some of the end-users involved in sustainability at Eppley, a supervisor, a staff member and gym goers, I felt more connected to the issue,” Gates said. “I really enjoyed talking to the people and hearing their stories.”

Students learned how to start out with a larger issue and narrow it down to one creative solution – a lesson Gates said she will take with her throughout her career. 

For more information about the Academy, visit their website

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