Classroom to Community: Designing and Inventing for Real-World Impact

a group of students holding their prototype posing with instructor



There is widespread recognition that project-based, experiential learning provides powerful positive impacts on undergraduate education. In particular, design-based projects in which students tackle open-ended problems of their own choosing are strongly motivating, empower students to translate theory into practice and immerse students in a complex real-world learning milieu. Students are challenged by the need to first “craft their own problem,” not just solve one handed to them, then integrate knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines to invent, prototype and test solutions that can demonstrably solve the needs of the end users they are striving to serve.

Classroom to Community is a program for students who want to develop their “design superpowers” as they creatively invent solutions for real-world problems and needs. We provide space, resources, mentorship and a vibrant community for students to learn rigorous, academically-validated design thinking methods and powerful tools for human-centered design. We help students develop their creative abilities by combining people, design, technology and community-engaged scholarship — all fueled by student agency and a passion for creating solutions with tangible impact. We aim to foster a culture of innovation and a multidisciplinary communal learning environment in which students share and learn from and with each other.

Our Community values diversity and divergent thinking and aims to support teams of students from different backgrounds, majors, departments and schools in successfully developing creative solutions that may become viable and sustainable outside of the university. The invention of effective solutions to real-world human needs requires curiosity, the ability to talk to and empathize with people, the ability to navigate ambiguity and not be deterred by initial failures, and the ability to apply insights from disparate fields including science, engineering, humanities and the arts. Learning in the context of design projects thus encourages breaking academic silos by promoting creative synthesis of both technical and humanistic approaches to problem solving.

Our ultimate goals are to empower students to discover their creative potential and develop the skills and mindsets to innovate effective solutions to real-world problems now and throughout their careers. We want all students to enjoy the creative paradigm of design that transforms ideas into something new in the world that benefits others. We also look forward to Classroom to Community participants designing and inventing their own life and career pathways and our collective futures.

Pitt Magazine Article - Designed to Make a Difference

Principal Investigator 

Joseph Samosky 
Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering 

Select Collaborators 

Natasha Gilbert 
Alumna, Bioengineering 2020 

Jacob Meadows 
Alumnus, Bioengineering 2020 

Goal Area