Introducing our design thinking program for middle school students


“I believe without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.” - Anthony J. D’Angelo

Salem-Keizer students brainstorm with an OMESC volunteer

Salem-Keizer students brainstorm with an OMESC volunteer

Sense of caring precedes sense of community. We have to first understand that a problem exists and whom it impacts before a sense of caring, of empathy, of compassion will follow. As we learn more about the problem; our connectedness or contributions to it, the historical and systemic root of it and any power we have to change it, a sense of community is inspired.

That sense of caring and community is the foundation of our 8th grade design thinking program which brings students, teachers and industry professionals together to define and solve a problem in their local area. The program uses the 4D design thinking methodology that divides the project into four phases — discover, develop, design and deliver — and 8th grade math to change student mindsets and make an impact on the community.

Piloted last year in the Portland Public School District, this program is our next step in building a unique engagement model in Oregon that connects students with industry partners multiple times during their K-12 education experience. We are excited to bring the program to the Salem-Keizer School District this year as we roll out the program to middle schools fed by our elementary school partners – so we are now engaging with students who participated in STEM Connect in 5th grade!

We are grateful to be able to engage a diverse set of professional volunteers from PGE, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), Oh! Planning and Design, and Oregon Migrant Education Service Center (OMESC) in Salem. The first set of student projects are focusing on issues of houselessness, food security, safety, student agency, and bullying. We have been very inspired by the creative ideas, passion for the projects, and increased sense of community we see developing across our students, teachers and volunteers.

The middle school program is a great example of how we are mobilizing community to create a future of limitless possibilities for students. Our next focus: High school.

Elaine Charpentier-Philippi is the In4All Executive Director

Elaine Philippi