Designing a revolution in education.

The entrance to Studio H, under construction.

Emily Pilloton is on fire for design. Specifically, the kind of design that fosters and nurtures our humanity, habitat, health and happiness. Since she founded Project H Design in 2008 (with $1,000 in savings, on her parents’ dining room table), she’s written Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People; created the Hippo Roller, Whirlwind Wheelchair, math playgrounds, kitchen tables for refugees, and composting devices for urban farms; and appeared on The Colbert Report. And now, with her typical optimistic confidence that design can change the world, she’s taking on public education with Studio H.

The Studio H Blue Dots: Research, Ideate, Develop, Prototype, Refine, Build.

Studio H is a design/build curriculum that Pilloton is pioneering to spark rural community development in the poorest county in North Carolina. She and her partner Matthew Miller came to rural Bertie County in 2009 to complete six design projects for visionary school superintendent Dr. Zullinger, fell in love with the area, and “something just clicked.” The two got their teaching certificates and set about doing what Project H is known for: connecting the power of design with the people who need it most, in the places where it can make a real and lasting difference.

Downtown, Bertie County

“When design bursts out of the design bubble and intersects with things like public schools, health care or social justice,” Pilloton says, “it really gets interesting and ultimately has real impact.”

Studio H’s mission is serious and intense: to teach design as creative problem-solving that involves critical thinking, hands-on construction, and the completion of two major projects that will benefit the community (this year’s will be chicken coops and a downtown farmer’s market). On Wednesday, August 11, Studio H officially opened with 12 juniors – and a kick-off project to create clay water filters fired over a cow dung fire. Talk about a dirt-under-your-fingernails design reality!

Firing the clay water filters

The final product!

The kids loved it, talked about what makes good design, why clean water is important in Bertie and in developing countries around the world, and happily threw some clay around. At the end of the first week, completed water filters in hand, the students were reporting to their parents that this is “the coolest class ever”  – and Matt & Emily were feeling like the dung had struck pure gold.

Ultimately, Studio H will provide these 12 juniors with college credit, a summer job, and hands-on experience in design & construction, but I’m willing to bet they’ll walk away from this year with the life-changing experience of the power of their own creativity and potential – which is what education should be all about.

Emily & Matthew, design revolutionaries.

Pilloton says, “It’s a real opportunity for us to use design as a tool to blow open what these kids thought they knew, and to get them excited to take ownership of their education and their community. When they are able to point to the farmer’s market  and say ‘Not only did I lay those bricks, I designed that form’ – that will be the best moment of the year for us.”

I’m donating $100 today to Studio H and Emily & Matthew for bringing their passion for design to the public schools of Bertie County. I just can’t wait to see what they build next! To join me, click here