Design for empowerment

Italian student Emilia Louisa Pucci won TU Delft’s first-ever Student Inspiration Award on September 1, 2014 at the official Opening of the Academic Year.

Selected from a list of nominees on the Students Wall of Fame, Pucci’s project was part of her thesis for M.Sc Design For Interaction. In 2012, while working at a Fabrication Lab in Rotterdam, Pucci interacted with locals in Afrikaanderwijk, a multicultural neighbourhood in Rotterdam with low income and educational opportunities and higher crime rates.

While there were some activities being held to empower women and young children, the young adults from around 15 to 21 were largely ignored by policy makers. “They were stereotyped as troublemakers but nothing was being done to empower them. It wasn’t that they lacked drive or ambition, if they could just be given stimulating opportunities they would get more confidence. Especially if they could work with latest technologies and innovations,” said Pucci.

Work at the FabLab involved 3D printing and laser cutting and Pucci decided to hold workshop there. She believed that for a generation born to technology it would easy to get a grasp of these tools.

Despite scepticism from local schools, Pucci had the support of her university advisor Dr. Ingrid Mulder. Eventually, she found a coach who was eager to get her students on board. “At first the students wanted to know what they could get out of it. It wasn’t instant money, I clarified. But these were employable skills; they would make tangible things they could put on their portfolios; and, for those among them who wanted to be entrepreneurs, this was an opportunity to see a product through from the idea stage to a finished product.”

The workshop was a success and students quickly took to the technology. They made keychains, necklaces and other knick knacks. One student, an artist, made stencils for himself while another learnt Adobe Illustrator during the time. “They learned everything so quickly it was amazing. There was no difference between them and so-called university students,” says Pucci.

Though the project is on hold now, Pucci hopes that one day it can be a continuous sustainable model. Over the past year, she has spoken about it at several international forums and other countries have expressed an interest in adapting it. “If I were two people, one of me would be back in Delft. For now, I will be happy if someone wants to take on the project and make it grow.”

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