This study focuses on transformative learning experiences for college students by exposing them to cross-cultural communication and participatory design activities despite language barriers. During the Spring semester of 2022, inter-disciplinary college students from Drexel University were paired with older Asian adults in the communities of Philadelphia in the Aging + Design course. The goal of the course development was to help voice the needs of an aging society, support cross-cultural conversation and Stop Asian Hate initiatives, as well as a valuable experience for students to embrace empathic design. Exploratory activities were introduced to the course pedagogy including empathic modeling, interviewing, co-create and co-design workshops, home-visiting, and public-facing co-exhibition. These pedagogical practices enabled students to empathize with the older community participants and co-design innovative solutions to benefit the community. The study provides insights on the methods to prepare students with knowledge and skills to engage directly with older adults. The outcome of the course was promising: most students gained new learnings and perspectives on Aging and Asians; older Asian adults who participated in the course embraced the collaboration with enthusiasm and joy, and many benefited from relationship building with young people; the course initiated a collaboration between the university and the community transcending language and cultural barriers. The transformative learning pedagogy motivated participants young or old to think beyond their comfort zones. It is now a course that continuously engages students who aim to develop greater empathy and creative skills in their learning process.
June He is an Assistant Professor of Product Design at Drexel University. She is a multifaceted designer and artist. Her passion and work focus on aging and relevant design innovation, participatory design methods, and a collaborative, cross-cultural design process with diverse participants. She uses empathic modeling and participatory design to help increase mobility for students with disabilities and explores the design opportunity at the intersection of gender, immigrant, and cultural identity. June is currently leading Aging + Design courses & research projects at Drexel University.