Confession #2: We Tried to Disrupt Our School

Michelle Kim
Nov 3, 2018 · 5 min read

The story of how two students tried to disrupt ArtCenter College of Design from the inside.

Our mission was simple. We wanted to change the school. And we found the perfect formula.

Or did we?

ArtCenter College of Design has the same problem many rapidly growing organizations have- it’s hard to innovate and change internally at a quick pace due to being understaffed, overworked, and disconnected amongst different groups within the community.

At the same time, students want to create positive impact in the ArtCenter community, but they rarely have the time to commit in making long-lasting change due to high workloads and the inability to collaborate and connect with Administration and stakeholders in a consistent manner.

We found the perfect formula to answer both these pain points.

The ArtCenter community prides itself in the creation of what we call “Designstorms”, which are extremely similar to Hackathons. Sponsored companies come to campus with specified problems or opportunity areas they want students to explore and find innovative solutions within three days in multi-disciplinary teams from various departments (ranging from fine art, product design, transportation, advertisement, film, illustration, etc).

We realized that these Designstorms would be extremely useful if hosted internally.

Why can’t we host Designstorms to solve problems within our own community? Why can’t we utilize the skill sets we were learning in the classroom (ex: brainstorming, ethnographic research, prototyping, systems design, branding, etc) into our own world at school?

As students, we solve problems related to internal communication methods, sustainability practices, multi-functional work spaces, wayfinding issues, and the inability to understand specific demographics’ true needs and desires. So why can’t we do the same for our own community, which in itself is an organization?

We have the tools and knowledge to design a better solution for ourselves and our community.

What we are lacking is a foundation that would allow students, faculty, staff and administration the opportunity to truly collaborate and find feasible and measurable solutions that would work for everyone on a consistent basis.

So we created a framework that would work for our school.

Framework Explanation

ArtCenter would host annual internal Designstorms with specific topics formed by research and analysis from students and appropriate stakeholders. Students participating in the Designstorms would be able to work with stakeholders to find relevant solutions and would pitch the ideas. The Designstorm would then be followed up with a class that would allow students to test, prototype and further research on the solutions and questions derived from the Designstorm. This would all culminate into an executive report presented to the Provost and President of our College with a summarized suggested action plan, listing prioritized solutions that would be feasible and most impactful for the community. The findings and conclusion of the whole project would be presented publicly to the whole community to share and hear feedback from the rest of our peers (much like an all hands meeting).

Ideally, the next steps would then be to create monthly milestones for appropriate stakeholders to implement and execute the action plans (but who knows because accountability is low in higher education…but that’s for another future article).

We think this formula would work for ArtCenter because of the way the school is structured and because of the specific history and culture in place at our college. We know student-led long term projects work (such as TEDxACCD or clubs like EcoCouncil and Anti-Racist Classroom). We also know that the Administration wants to collaborate and work with students and are open to suggestions and change.

But we don’t have a consistent model in place to create this cross-collaboration.

Sample Advertisements for Potential DesignStorm Topics

Why can’t we solve how to improve our influx of emails that students never read? Why can’t we create new environments for students and faculty to work and study on campus? Why can’t we design for a more flexible, career-relevant curriculum? Why can’t we brainstorm to improve the increasing presence of mental health and food insecurity on campus? Why can’t we research the current state of diversity, equity and inclusion on campus?

We have the tools. So let us use it. For us and for our community.

Ps. We know this isn’t the perfect solution, but we deeply believe this is the best next step in creating a positive systematic change for our college. When we started this proposal 1.5 years ago, we wanted to create a foundation in place that would allow our community to have open dialogue, collaboration, and accountability even after we were physically gone.

Status Report: Received final approval from Provost and support from the Center for Student Experience to pilot test this framework in Spring 2019. Sophie De Lara, who has been co-leading this proposal with me for the past 1.5 years will be spearheading the execution phase of the project at the start of 2019. For more information and access to our pitch deck, comment below!

As my last gift to ArtCenter as a student, I hope this inspires my community to keep growing and gives them the platform to utilize the resources available to spark positive change within their own communities.

The stupidly honest confessions of a near-sighted design student looking to expand her mind and knowledge while chaotically sprinting towards graduation aka adulthood (but really aka the unknown).

Michelle Kim

Written by

Designer full of questions on design ethics, education, and technology. michellekimcreative.com

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