The RED Corps Fellows Launch Two Projects

In the Fall, newly-selected members of Denison’s Research, Engagement and Design Corps Fellows, or RED Corps for short, will engage Denison students as co-designers of new campus spaces. So don’t be surprised if you’re approached by a student with a clipboard, asking questions as you walk across the Quad or wait in line in the Student Union.

RED Corps is a team of students, trained in research and design, who will develop research questions and methodologies, engage the community in conversations about those topics, and design prototypes and solutions based on their research and conversations. RED Corps member Morgan Hogenmiller ’19, is looking forward to RED solving problems as a team, creating and conducting research projects, and communicating effectively with a large network of people.

As Denison is engaged in a master planning process for residence halls, the RED Corps will invite fellow students into conversations about residence halls and social spaces and how the physical structure of newly-created or newly-renovated buildings might foster the types of communities that can serve students’ needs and interests.

A second major project RED Corps will tackle is re-envisioning wellness at Denison. Denison’s wellness center has adopted an integrative approach to wellness and views wellness holistically— body, mind, spirit. The RED Corps wellness team has been working with students and an architecture firm to design what a new wellness center might look like and how it can function.

For both of these projects, the RED Corps will be instrumental in helping to answer some major questions, such as: How do residence halls contribute to a sense of belonging for residents? How do residence halls promote wellness through layout, facilities, and furnishings? How might wellness extend beyond the physical boundaries of a wellness center to permeate campus life?

These aren’t simple questions to answer. RED Corps fellows will work with a cadre of professionals — including architecture firms, Denison’s Housing Master Planning and Wellness Teams, as well as staff in the Red Frame Lab who will provide coaching on the skills of design and design thinking, engagement, and presentation and storytelling.

So how does this all work?

The RED Corps fellows meet twice weekly. The first meeting frames the task for the week, designs questions and methodologies. The second meeting synthesizes findings and moves toward idea generation. In between those meetings, members will be out and about on campus, asking peers questions and trying to understand students’ needs and perceptions.

The RED Corps collects data and feedback and reports out frequently to the student body, inviting additional perspectives and response. One goal is to make the design projects under review highly visible and to make certain all members of the campus community feel part of the conversation. RED Corps members also share their findings with members of the Board of Trustees.

Community engagement was one of the driving forces behind the creation of RED Corps. Vice President for Student Development Laurel Kennedy explains how this goal pertains to the residential housing and wellness projects: “The residential master plan and the wellness center are both central to how students live on the campus. It’s really important to get these right. The only way to do that is to make sure students’ voices, not to mention their imaginations, drive design. And some of the questions we need to answer are tough: How do we create better spaces for social life in the residence halls? How can we invite people to use the wellness center as a place to practice the habits of health, not just to treat illness? The RED Corps concept emerged as a way to invite students to help us solve those riddles.”

Political science and communication double major Matt Nowling ‘21 shares, “We are at this monumental time in Denison’s history where we are going to be redeveloping these fundamental pillars of the Denison experience. I am looking forward to see how the changes we develop will impact the student experience in the future.”

Kennedy says the RED Corps fellows have the chance to apply the tools of human-centered design thinking as a way to conduct research. Members will receive ongoing professional training and development to help them gain these skills.

“In addition to bringing student voice to these projects, this kind of approach to problem-solving is going to be great professional development for Corps members,” she noted.

Throughout the semester, faculty and staff will come into the Red Frame Lab to help RED Corps fellows gain particular skills or content knowledge such as how to frame good questions, how to conduct interviews and summarize qualitative data, and how to develop prototypes and deliver great presentations.

“Not only are RED Corps members significantly contributing to the Denison community, but they are also gaining powerful skills for professional success: research, design thinking, presentation skills, and community engagement.” added Julie Tucker, assistant vice president for Student Development, who oversees both the Red Frame Lab and student-centered research efforts for Denison.

RED Corps fellows were selected to bring broad representation of student interests and experiences. While members share an interest in research and sense-making, they represent different majors, different campus interests and affiliations, and different ways of thinking through and answering questions.

Ward Anderson ‘21 is excited to practice the skills he’s learning through his major. “As a Data Analytics major, having the opportunity to be part of the RED Corps provides for real-world application of the analytical skills I have learned at Denison. This team of 12 students and administrators will also simulate an iterative workflow similar to the type of project management adopted by professional organizations.”

Another RED Corps fellow, sophomore biology and Spanish double major Bella Kohrs, is also looking forward to the professional development. “I believe that RED Corps is not only going to teach each of its members about data collection, how to increase community, and solve campus issues, but that the program will also teach us about ourselves. We have the opportunity to work with others to learn how to build on and grow our own ideas using constructive criticism from our peers.”

She continues, “With the ample lessons that RED Corps is bound to teach us, each member will take away not only a thorough knowledge of how to improve and connect with their community, but how to work as part of a team.”

True to design thinking convention, the RED Corps is itself a prototype, to test its effectiveness as a student engagement mechanism. The fact that students will be taking the lead on conducting research and using the data to design solutions is consistent with the new orientation of Residential Communities, Alford Community Leadership & Involvement Center, and other departments. Kennedy says, “If we’re trying to equip students to be agents of positive change in their communities and organizations after graduation, we need to be skill-building now. This project puts our mission into action.”

Though this is the first year for RED Corps, Tucker reports that there were nearly four times as many applicants as available positions. “The selection process was extremely competitive, with so many fantastic candidates. We’re excited about this inaugural team, whose members each possess a knack for asking good questions and designing interesting research methodologies. They all genuinely want to make a difference on campus through these two projects.” In addition to the intellectual firepower brought by the students, the team as a collective also represents a broad swath of campus life, through their organizational involvement, disciplines of study, and class years.

RED Corps fellows feel honored by their selection. Political science major Andrew Boyle ‘19 reflects, “I was barreling out of a final exam when I read my acceptance email to the RED Corps. It was one of those emails I had to lap up two or three times before believing. I was ecstatic. The Corps offers a format to problem solve on a local level. It’s what students like myself coveted about the group — for its promise of thorough professional development and service back to our campus community.”

Be on the lookout for ways to engage with the RED Corps team to make your voice heard and also stay tuned to the latest findings.

July 23, 2018