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Nadworny: Design For Vermont

10/24/11 5:55PM By Rich Nadworny
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(Host) While many people in this country are worried about their future, commentator Rich Nadworny recently met a group of college students who are redesigning their own.

(Nadworny) Recently I attended a conference in Chicago that renewed my faith in the future.

A group called Design for America took the stage. It was a collection of college students and recent graduates from Northwestern University. The kids told stories of how they were using design to change the world. And while this sounds like what all college kids say they're going to do, this group then described and showed how they were actually doing it.

Design for America involves students studying engineering, math, design, economics or anything else, for that matter. Their goal is to solve problems, specifically designing solutions with social impact through local programs. They not only have to figure out what to do, they have to build or create whatever it is they design.

For instance, they decided to take on the problem of hospital-acquired infections. It's a not so little issue that kills about 400,000 Americans per year. The DFA students knew the solution: hand washing. But no one had devised a system to make sure everyone in the hospital did it.

So they watched, observed, and thought. They noticed that even if doctors and nurses didn't wash their hands, they did what human beings all over the world do when they think there hands are dirty: they wipe them off on the front of their pants. With that insight they devised and built something called Swipe Sense, which is a hand sanitizer that hangs on the front of your pants. When you got to wipe off your hands - Instant disinfection. The patent is pending, by the way.

The Design for America kids were the most passionate and confident presenters I've seen. And they were all between 19 and 21 years old! They were designing solutions to help homeless people and to help diabetic kids. The venture capital money was already starting to flow their way, and they weren't even out of college yet.

Two thoughts struck me immediately:

My first thought was that I want my kids doing this. This looked like the most creative, imaginative and practical educational experience possible.

My second thought was: How do we bring this to Vermont? This is exactly what our local colleges should be doing. Beyond providing a great educational opportunity this is a perfect example of how to seed our own innovative businesses right here. It's a way grow our economy AND keep the college graduates from leaving the state.

And low and behold, guess what? The person who developed this program is woman named Liz Gerber who grew up in Burlington and went to BHS. Crazy, right? Here was a native Vermonter behind the most innovative educational program around.

Now that's a resource that we, as a state, should try to reclaim. Imagine a Liz Gerber re-envisioning our Vermont College and high school education system. Design for America is a great program. But right now, what I'd really like to see is a Design for Vermont.

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