Boston College hosts annual Design for ImpACCt Summit
Boston College regularly competes against Atlantic Coast Conference athletic teams, but at the fourth annual Design for ImpACCt Summit, BC students collaborated with teammates from three ACC schools to solve complex, real-world problems.
For the fourth consecutive year, the Heights hosted teams of undergraduate and graduate students from Clemson University, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, and BC, each tasked with addressing the Stanford Center’s Longevity Challenge, a global competition that inspires students to design products and services to improve well-being across the lifespan.
Sixteen BC students participated this fall, all of whom had been previously introduced to design thinking through the Experience Reflection and Action First-Year Program, the Cyberstrategy Innovation and Formative Development undergraduate summer course, or the Introduction to Design Thinking undergraduate course sections.
“Our DFI program and the summit’s final project presentations truly represent the integration of science and society in tackling relevant, real-world human challenges,” said Julia E. DeVoy, the Lynch School of Education and Human Development associate dean of undergraduate programs and students, who led the BC contingent. “It’s clearly a model for reflecting human-centered design and social innovation in the context of science, technology, and society.”
Design-driven thinking is an interdisciplinary set of tools used to approach problem solving within academia and industry at the field’s pioneering companies such as Apple, Uber, Airbnb, and Pixar. Due to the methodology’s human-centered nature, design-driven thinking is a pivotal mechanism and vehicle for incorporating empathy and social justice into a complex problem-solving process, explained DeVoy, the ERA director.
Launched in 2020, DFI is an interdisciplinary, project-based course offered each fall semester at the four ACC schools to provide students with an immersive, design-thinking experience. DFI integrates BC liberal arts undergrads with students from Clemson’s School of Architecture, the NC State Department of Graphic and Industrial Design, and Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering to form the interinstitutional teams.
Each institution’s faculty co-teach the class via hybrid, in-person, and remote modes, while students are clustered into four- or five-member cross-disciplinary teams to tackle a different design challenge each year, and present their solutions at the summit.
“This course blends the unique perspectives of industrial design, architecture, engineering, and liberal arts to create solutions with a significant societal impact,” said DeVoy. “It empowers students to apply their academic strengths to real-world challenges, fostering a culture of actionable innovation.”
Lynch School student Kathryn Mattocks ’26 explained that the lifespan problem her group addressed was transitioning to a life that accommodates a chronic disease or disability.
“Our proposed intervention is a remodeled, universally accessible kitchen. Using dementia and Alzheimer’s patients as a case study, we determined that the important aspects include open shelving, cork flooring, color markers, a tablet, kitchen smart sensors, and a calendar system. Our design aims to not only accommodate individuals with memory issues but also ensure longevity and quality of life.”
Carroll School of Management sophomore Peter Coquillette and his team decided to address the challenges faced by incarcerated individuals returning to employment following their prison terms. “As lifespans increase, the number of prisoners making this transition will also grow. Our product, called Key Connections, is a starter kit designed to link those leaving prison with the necessary resources to find success post-incarceration, and also outlines the steps required to obtain proper documentation to do so.”
Lynch School junior Eunice Lee’s group focused on the 18- to 24-year-old cohort, and the related age problem of leaving home.
“We redesigned a table that has all of the kitchen components in one space, with the purpose of making cooking a communal experience. Our product would be used to benefit individuals who are moving from home for the first time, to find community, become acquainted with a new location, and have the opportunity to learn cooking skills from professionals.”
BC student participants universally raved about the program.
“I loved engaging in design thinking with a human-centric focus. Creating something that could potentially help others has been super impactful and rewarding,” said Mattocks. “I also loved meeting and forming new relationships with classmates from different schools, and traveling to Clemson and NC State was absolutely incredible.”
“Being a part of Design for ImpACCt was an excellent experience,” said Coquillette. “It allowed me to be around talented and intelligent students from different schools with backgrounds and expertise different from those of BC students.”
Lee underscored that teamwork has been a critical aspect of her process.
“Knowing what skills I have, and how they best work in a team with such a wide variety of talents, working processes, and experience is crucial. It’s also been great to see how other teams navigate this process in a way that works best for their team dynamic.”
Lynch School student Peri Durbin ’26 characterized her DFI experience as “phenomenal.”
“I loved the opportunity to work with a diverse group of undergraduate and graduate students,” she said. “It’s not often that we get to partake in a class that emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary work on such a large scale. This was further emphasized by our travels to both North and South Carolina, which were lovely experiences.”
The DFI Summit was founded in 2019 by the ACC Academic Leadership Network team, and BC’s participation is supported by the offices of the Provost and Dean of Faculties, Vice Provost for Research and Academic Planning, and Associate Vice Provost for Design and Innovation Strategies.