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Cultures, Communities and Design

Expanding Service Learning Projects in Design Education Beyond the Classroom
M. Zingoni & O. Gil


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How can we leverage design education to empower underserved communities? Dewey (1938) saw education as a social process based on three dispositions: all citizens are- moral equals, capable of rational judgment and action, and competent to work together to resolve conflicts and solve problems. In higher education, Service Learning Projects (SLP) deal with local and global concerns develop life ling learning experiences (Fink 2003, Davies 2006). SLP foster the development of empathy, informed judgments and responsive action. This study explores how SLP can expand beyond the traditional classroom as a social process. It presents a pilot study that engaged a variety of stakeholders: community members from a local village in Venezuela, students and faculty from two Public Research I universities in the United States. It presents a participatory design process to empower the local community of Volcadero in Venezuela to leverage their identity and strengths to improve their community. The town of Volcadero is a fishing community located 334.2km west of Caracas and despite its strategic location and tourist port, it is perceived by outsiders as unsafe and dirty and by its local community as disconnected. The project amplified the voices of the local community who provided input identifying their needs and highlighted the community’s identity and values. The participatory activities developed a conceptual framework to translate these values into architectural interventions proposals. The overarching goals of the project were (1) to empower the local fisherman community of Volcadero by developing agency through design, and (2) to develop global competency and empathy in architecture education.


Associate Professor Milagros Zingoni is the Director of the School of Interior Architecture at the University of Tennessee. Before this, she was tenured Associate Professor at Arizona State University where she started her academic career 16 years ago. During this tenure, she taught for nine years in Architecture and Urban Design, before joining the Interior Design Program in where she created and developed the Master in Interior Architecture.
Zingoni is originally from Argentina, where she is a registered architect, and has additional study in habitat design and urban and environmental planning. Milagros’s experience as both a designer, planner and educator allow her to move easily across scales: from the city to the scale of the body.
Her research explores leveraging design education to develop agency in underrepresented communities and developing pedagogical approaches that can enable design students to develop empathy and collaboration skills, expanding design-build studios in interior architecture and cross disciplinary design thinking. Her studios focus on community and commitment to public engagement. Zingoni leverages the resources of Public Research 1 Land Grand universities for the public good addressing new ways of learning, and collaborations that creates communities of learning. Zingoni was recognized in 2019 by the Interior Design Educator’s Council (IDEC) with the National Teaching Excellence Award, by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Arizona Chapter with the honor of 2019 Educators of the Year Award, by the annual DesignIntelligence rankings as one of the top twelve most admired educators in the country and by Arizona State University 2020 Outstanding Faculty Mentor Awards. Zingoni is a strong advocate for community causes, serving on multiple non-profit and civic boards.

Oriana is a Venezuelan native who finds her strength in culture and justice. She is a design-driven enthusiast who uses creative design skills to interdisciplinary, find solutions to current problems affecting society and the environment. Oriana believes in equity, justice, and the power each person has to generate positive change. Her design philosophies include design for all, empower the voiceless, and creatively find design solutions to problems.
Oriana recently graduated from the Master in Architecture at Arizona State University, where she was the recipient of the Alpha Phi Ro Medal for Architecture Graduate education and the 2020 Graduate Student Award from Arizona State University for her work in amplifying the voices of underserved communities. She also received recognition during her Bachelor in Science in Architecture, where she also completed a minor in Urban planning. Oriana is an active member of the National Organization of Minority Architects NOMA, the American Institute of Architects AIA, and the AIA women’s leadership Group PHX. During her education at ASU Oriana was the co-founder and president of diverse student groups such as the LatinX Architecture Student Organization LASO, NOMAS and co-writer of the Design Justice Initiative DJI fighting against systemic racism at the educational level. Her work has been presented nationally and internationally.