Introducing the Sustainable Design Practicum

The grave environmental problems of the present, affecting communities and ecosystems from the scale of city blocks to the planet, can be tackled only through imaginative work between diverse intellectual disciplines and professional fields, bringing scholarly knowledge to bear on practical challenges and difficulties. To contribute to this effort, members of the Ecological Collective at Johns Hopkins University and the Maryland Institute College of Art are collaborating on a Sustainable Design Practicum between 2020 and 2023. In the 2020-21 academic year, 12 JHU and MICA students, graduate and undergraduate, were enrolled in the program.

With support from the Office of the Provost at Johns Hopkins University, this year-long project-based course series provides students with interdisciplinary sustainable design training. The Practicum involves participation in a fall semester theory and methods course, a spring semester design studio, and an organizational internship. The Sustainable Design Practicum trains students to create conditions for collaborative social change through collective and relational ecological design practices. We build Fellows’ capacity to think critically and ecologically in order to design interventions for environmental justice, through multiple modes of learning: (1) practical, real-world problem-solving with organizations working to improve social and ecological outcomes in the Baltimore area, (2) academic- and practitioner-guided methodological instruction and collaborative exploration of these methods, and (3) interdisciplinary sustainable design theory and human-centered design process.

The Practicum aims to equip Fellows with skills and training for careers in diverse fields of environmental planning, practice, and policy by preparing them to bridge technical and humanistic orientations in engaging the ecological and social imperatives of our times. We provide Fellows with both technical, project-based learning and qualitative, ethnographic training for social, ecological, and material intervention, building on expertise from diverse fields in the humanities, social sciences, social design, and engineering, as well as numerous local academic and industry experts in sustainable design. Fellows are partnered with local organizations working in environment, sustainability, and design to implement a project throughout the academic year, utilizing participatory design methods to develop ecological solutions for concrete problems tackled by their partner organization. In 2020-21, the Practicum is partnering with two Black-led environmental organizations in Baltimore, the Baltimore Compost Collective and the Black Yield Institute, to co-design and implement environmental justice projects. The course is taught by Anand Pandian and Nicole Labruto, with regular support from Eesha Patne and Vidisha Agarwalla.

2020-2021 Sustainable Design Practicum Fellows:
Ally Bartell, JHU Class of '21, Environmental Science
Estela Duhart-Benavides, MICA MA student, Social Design
Kathleen Harmanson, MICA MA student, Social Design
Mitchell Kleckner, JHU Class of '22, Environmental Engineering
Alvin Modin, JHU PhD student, Physics
Vince Protani, JHU MS student, Environmental Planning and Management
Douwe Schipper, JHU PhD student, History of Science
Hale Şirin, JHU PhD student, Comparative Thought and Literature
Audrey Ting, JHU Class of '22, Environmental Science and Public Health
Emmett Turner, JHU Class of '22, Mechanical Engineering
Veronica Wallace, JHU PhD student, Geography & Environmental Engineering
Crystal Zhao, JHU Class of '22, Environmental Science

The video above provides a glimpse of what we’ve been doing together with the Baltimore Compost Collective and the Black Yield Institute in the 2020-21 year.