Am I ‘digital ready?’
This question, and the mission of the local non-profit Digital Ready, seem especially relevant as students and design professionals alike adapt to remote work environments and find themselves relying on technologies and software more than ever.
Digital Ready is a youth development program working with high school students in Boston public schools. Their core mission is to give young people, especially those with limited resources or attending under-served schools, digital literacy and experience with design, engineering and fabrication tools so they can be ready to join the innovation economy or other design industries in college and beyond.
This summer, I, along with a handful of architects and designers at Payette, volunteered as a mentor to one student in Digital Ready’s Summer Studios program. Because the students could not gather in a typical studio setting, the program organizers delivered home innovation kits (including modeling materials, laptops with design software, and a 3D printer) to their students. The students experimented with 3D printing, orthographic drawings, website design, 3D digital modeling, physical modeling, animation, TikTok and more, all in a month’s time! As an industry mentor, I had weekly check-ins with my mentee to discuss her design work and her questions about architecture. These were also an opportunity to get know each other and chat about our shared interests in gardening, our dogs, recent craft projects and anime shows on Netflix.
For her final project, my mentee was interested in re-designing bus stops so they could be used as temporary housing structures for the homeless and also leveraging neighborhood fire hydrants to install hand-washing stations for the community. She chose the busy bus stop at Copley Place, near the public library, as her site but also imagined her intervention could spread throughout the city. I was struck by how Covid-19 had impacted her design thinking and how similar community-based service projects were being studied, designed, and fabricated at Payette, for example the WaSH Portable Hand Washing Stations installed in Lynn .
Since volunteering with Summer Studios, I’ve found myself reflecting on the overlapping and intersecting discussions happening at Payette and Digital Ready and how they relate to national debates on racial justice, education, reform, economic mobility. In recent months, Payette announced the firm had earned the International Living Future Institute’s JUST Label and provided Implicit Bias Training for all employees. These two steps have helped educate me, and I believe others in our community, about under-represented groups in our industry and long-standing inequities that require action, honesty and open dialogue if we hope to change them.
What provides me with a bit of hope is the existence of programs such as Digital Ready and the excitement, energy and hard work my mentee and all the program participants brought to their designs and work. While I know my personal impact was small, I hope these students gained confidence in their abilities to pursue architecture or design and that they will start to change the demographics of our industry in the years to come.