Designing for Achievement

Student illustration of the Calming Room at Bruce Vento Elementary

College of Design Professor Abimbola Asojo and her students are using service learning projects to explore how the school interior learning environment impacts students’ well-being.

Asojo has focused on collaborative service-learning projects to promote learning and wellbeing in pre-K-5 students as part of a partnership between University of Minnesota Extension’s Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, Healthy Learners program, the Child Youth and Family Consortium, the Undergraduate Research and Opportunities Program (UROP), and St. Paul-based Bruce Vento Elementary School.

Bruce Vento school – whose motto is “No Excuses” -- is dedicated to a culture of universal achievement, one that takes place when the critical mass of the staff believes that each student is capable of meeting academic standards in reading, writing, and math.

Asojo’s first project at Bruce Vento was to create a “calming room” that uses interactive features and minimalistic visual design to relax students. Before the redesign, the space was devoid of any soothing aesthetics whatsoever – a windowless room with white concrete walls and a worn blue carpet was where students with behavioral issues were sent as a disciplinary measure. Asojo worked with her sophomore design studio to transform the existing space into a place where kids can decompress and self-regulate behavior.

The success of the calming room has helped Asojo secure UROP funding for two additional projects at Bruce Vento. Family-style and reward-based seating and acoustic paneling are the focus of a revamped cafeteria that emphasizes the importance of sharing meals and limiting negative stimulus from excessive noise. The cafeteria project is currently in the planning stages. College of Design student Miranda McNamara is providing support to Asojo on the project. “I feel more engaged within my community and more knowledgeable as a design student. It’s a great opportunity to be put into real life situations while also helping out my community," said McNamara. 

McNamara isn’t the only student benefitting from the partnership with Bruce Vento. Two interior design undergraduate students, Noah Exum and Abigail Lundstrom, are currently working with Asojo on a redesigned teachers lounge at the school. Local modern furniture and home decor retailer, Room & Board, is donating $15,000 in furniture and accessories for the new teacher sanctuary.

In addition to creating  opportunities for University faculty and students to work with young populations, Bruce Vento’s large immigrant population also allows project contributors to practice culturally sensitive design theory.

“The University is a leader in global learning. University students who have worked on these projects are learning about culturally sensitive design. The more we reinforce that through curriculum, the more successful we can be. Students are able to gain disciplinary knowledge while achieving civic and community consciousness and cultural competency,” said Asojo.

Her partnership with Bruce Vento has led to the publication of the article Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice, which examines how researchers can provide civic benefits from design problems rooted in community issues. Asojo’s work is an ongoing example of the mutual benefits of University-Community partnership.

Learn more about Asojo’s work at her 2017 President’s Community-Engaged Scholar Award finalist video.